Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Caragh Bailey
6 min read
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace from Employment Law Friend

Sexual harassment at work is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which makes the employee feel unsafe or intimidated. Your employer is responsible for investigating your complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment at work can happen to, and be carried out by, any gender identity, members of the same sex, opposite sex, any age or any sexual orientation.

You are protected from discrimination, including sexual harassment at work by the The Equality Act 2010

Sexual harassment is not only carried out by people in positions of authority. Perpetrators of sexual harassment could be:
  • a colleague in the same or another department
  • a customer
  • a member of the public who you may interact with in the workplace
  • a high profile client or person of influence
  • a member of management or in a position of authority

Sexual harassment in the workplace can come in many forms and could be a ‘one-off’ incident, or an on-going day to day occurrence. The effects of sexual harassment at work can greatly affect the quality of work life and can be degrading or humiliating. It is important to address an incident of sexual harassment even if the accused ‘did not mean it to be’ and considers it to be ‘a joke’. If this behaviour is unwanted, it is sexual harassment. All too often sexual harassment is deemed as work place ‘banter’ or ‘a bit of fun’ but for many victims it can be detrimental and make them not want to go to work at all.

Examples of harassment in the workplace

  • questions and comments regarding a person’s sex life
  • flirtatious remarks and comments on physical appearance and clothing
  • rape or sexual assault
  • inappropriate use of social media messaging and platforms
  • unwanted touching
  • displaying pornographic images
  • emails or texts including suggestive sexual material
  • threats due to rejection of sexual advances
  • persistently asking you on dates
  • asking for sexual favours

Solutions to harassment in the workplace

Making a sexual harassment claim may be extremely daunting and uncomfortable but mental well being, feeling safe within the workplace and quality of work life are extremely important. It is against the law to be victimised or treated unfairly within the work place for making a sexual harassment claim.

What should I do first if I have been sexually harassed at work?

If sexual harassment has occurred within the workplace, dependant on the severity of the issue, the first step would be to raise an informal complaint and talk the issue through with your employer, line manager or HR department, to try and resolve the situation. It may be helpful for you to get your employer's grievance policy, which is the formal procedure for you to make a complaint. It is a good idea to keep a record of incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace including dates and times, copies of messages and screenshots of any images that may have been sent to support your complaint, should they be required in an investigation, or during the employment tribunal process.

I don’t feel comfortable talking to my harasser informally, what next?
There are many reasons why it may be uncomfortable to discuss sexual harassment. If the issue is unresolvable informally, particularly uncomfortable or severe, then you can skip the initial conversation and raise a formal grievance. Your employer is responsible for supporting you and investigating a formal grievance. This is called ‘Vicarious Liability’. They must take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the workplace, while being considerate of, and sensitive to, the person who is making the complaint, as well as any witnesses, and the accused.

What if my complaint is severe or my employer isn’t resolving it?
If the claim is particularly severe or upsetting it may not be appropriate to raise a grievance with your employer. This is likely to be true in cases where the company or organisation is small, and the only person available to report sexual harassment to is the perpetrator; or, if your employer is not dealing with it because the accused person is in a senior, influential or powerful position.

If you can show to the employment tribunal that raising a grievance would have been inappropriate, or caused you further detriment, then skipping this step should not affect your claim.

Your employer is obligated to properly investigate any and all grievances that you raise.

Sexual Assault & Rape
Sexual assault and rape are serious crimes. We recommend that you report this to the police on 999. Report this to your employer as soon as possible, so long as you feel it is safe to do so. You do not have to go to work with your assaulter while this is being investigated. Click here for advice and support from NHS England.

I want to take my claim to tribunal
In order to take a claim to tribunal you must first notify ACAS, who may offer you early conciliation to reach a settlement agreement without having to go to the tribunal hearing, this can save you time, stress and costs.

If you refuse early conciliation, or if a settlement cannot be reached, ACAS will give you a certificate, containing a number that you must use to submit your claim to the employment tribunal. You submit your claim using an ET1 Form, it is crucial to fill this form correctly. Our employment solicitors can help you with this, and any part of your dispute.
Click here to read about the employment tribunal process

What are the employment tribunal time limits after being sexually harassed in the workplace?

ACAS should be informed within 3 months of the incident that you intend to make an Employment Tribunal claim except for in very specific exemptions.
Some issues are not covered by employment law until after 2 years of continuous service. However, The Equality Act 2010 protects against discrimination and harassment throughout your employment, including the recruitment process.

Frequently Asked Questions
You are protected from harassment based on any protected characteristic by The Equality Act 2010. This includes all Sexual Harassment. If the harassment is not linked to any protected charactertic, it is classed as bullying for legal purposes.
Harassment is a type of direct discrimination. It is any unwanted behaviour linked to your protected characteristic that violates your dignity or creates an unpleasant working environment for you.
If someone’s behaviour offends you, makes you feel uncomfortable, distressed or intimidated it may be harassment. This could include: abusive comments, derogatory jokes, insulting gestures, mocking facial expressions or offensive comments on social media.

Have you been subject to sexual harassment at work?
There is much more to winning your case than simply being in the right, our specialist employment solicitors know all the laws and tactics, to make sure you get the best chance at a fair settlement. Get in contact with us and see how we can help.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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