What is Classed as Sexual Harassment at Work?


Sexual harassment is any sexual behaviour by someone at work that is not wanted by you and causes offense, makes you uncomfortable, scared or humiliated.

If you’re unsure about speaking to your employer, call our Employment Lawyers for free initial legal advice on 08002605010 or request a callback and we’ll call you.

Research by the BBC, who surveyed more than 2,000 people about sexual harassment at work after the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo movement, suggests that 37% has suffered from some form of sexual harassment at work. Of the 37%, 53% were women and 20% were men.

This backs up research by the TUC that suggests more than 50% of women at work have faced sexual harassment and that only 1 in 5 actually reported it.

But what actually is sexual harassment at work and what can you do about it?

The Equality Act 2010 covers sexual harassment in the workplace and defines it as behaviour that’s not wanted and is offensive, intimidating or humiliating and that is sexual in nature. The behaviour does not have to be directed at you to be classed as sexual harassment and both men and women can be sexually harassed.

Some of the kinds of behaviour that would be classed as workplace sexual harassment are put into two classes. One is verbal harassment and the other is physical harassment. Some examples are:

  • Sexual jokes
  • Explicit photos or pornography
  • Sexual comments
  • Unwanted touching anywhere on your body
  • Kissing
  • Sexual assault

These are only a few of the types of behaviour that would be classed as sexual harassment at work. Any sexual behaviour by someone at work that is not wanted by you and causes offense, makes you uncomfortable, scared or humiliated could be classed as sexual harassment.

It’s not possible to list them all here, but if it’s unwanted and makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s wrong.

It’s also important to recognise that some forms of sexual harassment are actually criminal law matters as well as employment law matters. You could make a claim for sexual harassment in the Employment Tribunal and the individual could also face criminal prosecution.

You have the right to feel safe while you’re at work and if you don’t because of sexual harassment, you can do something about it.

What Can You Do about Sexual Harassment at Work?

If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace or you’ve witnessed someone else who has, you can make a complaint.

Your employer should have policies in place to deal with sexual harassment which should give you the information you need to raise the issue with your employer. If there are no specific workplace policies, you can always make your complaint by raising a grievance.

To raise a grievance, you should put your issues in writing to your immediate manager, providing they are not the person who is sexually harassing you. If they are, put your grievance in writing to their manager or to your HR Department, if there is one. Your other option is to talk to your Union Rep if you have one.

Your employer should take your allegations seriously and investigate what has happened. They should handle the issues sensitively as sexual harassment can be very upsetting to report and to discuss.

Your employer should make sure that you can discuss the issues in private. Anyone who witnessed your sexual harassment at work and reports it is also protected. If anyone in the workplace harasses them because of their report, they may also have a claim against their employer.

Hopefully, they will resolve this to your satisfaction, but if you don’t feel that your employer has done this, you can make a claim for sexual harassment against your employer.

Making a Claim for Sexual Harassment

There is a limited time period for you to make a sexual harassment claim against your employer. You only have three months from the date of the sexual harassment or from the last episode.

You can make a claim whilst you are still employed and there is no minimum length of service needed.

It’s best to get legal advice from a specialist Employment Law Solicitor so that you completely understand exactly what will happen if you make a claim and the chances of success.

You will need to complete the ACAS Early Conciliation process before bringing your claim to an Employment Tribunal. The three-month time limit is paused while you go through the Early Conciliation process but you should get legal advice from an Employment Solicitor as soon as possible. 

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