Sexual Harassment In The Work Place


The Law Of…Reacting To Sexual Harassment

Thousands of previously unreported cases of sexual harassment have recently surfaced in connection to media campaigns and celebrity allegations. Sexual harassment can occur anywhere and anytime, even in the workplace, so understanding how to report instances of sexual harassment at work is vital.

Deana Bates, Employment Law Solicitor, explains how to recognise if you or a colleague is being harassed and how to take action.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is inappropriate behaviour that is sexual in nature and unwanted by the person on the receiving end. The behaviour itself may leave you feeling intimidated, degraded or humiliated, and can create a hostile or offensive work environment. It is also listed as a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

You do not need to have previously objected to someone's behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.

How To Identify Sexual Harassment

Examples of sexual harassment at work are:

  • Jokes, comments or stories of a sexual nature
  • Emails or messages containing sexual content
  • Displaying pictures or photographs that are sexual in nature
  • Unwanted touching or remarks

Even if none of these instances are directed at you, if they are offensive or degrade you or other members of staff then they may amount to sexual harassment. An example could be if a colleague hangs a calendar or poster in the office which contains images of a sexual nature. If you explain that you find the images offensive but the colleague refuses to remove it then this is sexual harassment.

What Do I Do If I Am Being Sexually Harassed?

If you feel you are being sexually harassed at work, or suspect that someone else is being harassed, there are several courses of action that can be taken:

  • Tell them to stop. Sexual harassment should not be tolerated in the workplace or in any part of society. If you are harassed you are well within your rights to tell the person to stop immediately.
  • Document all occurrences and incidents. Makes notes of the times and dates that the sexual harassment occurred and what forms it took. Make sure to include the names of any people who witnessed the harassment.
  • Tell your line manager. Your manager should be the first to know if colleagues are acting inappropriately. If it was your manager that subjected you to sexual harassment, a more senior manager or a member of HR may be an appropriate alternative to discuss your concerns with.
  • Talk to HR or your Trade Union representative. In the event that you are unable to approach your manager about the sexual harassment or if you don’t have a manager, you should instead speak to HR or a representative of your Trade Union.
  • Report it to the police. If the harassment does not stop and becomes physical in anyway, the police should be notified immediately as this could be sexual assault.

If may not be yourself who is being harassed, but a colleague. If this is the case, the above actions are still recommended.

If you can see that somebody is not happy about the way they are being treated, it may help them speak up if you express that such behaviour is not funny or acceptable. If you feel unable to make such statement, you can report your concerns based on your observation.

What If Nothing Is Done About The Sexual Harassment?

If the sexual harassment continues, or you feel reporting it to a manager informally will not make a difference, you can raise a formal grievance against the staff member responsible. All employers should have a formal grievance procedure in place.

If your employer does not have a policy explaining how to raise a grievance, a grievance should be in writing, which can be by email. It should set out your wishes to raise a formal grievance, explaining your concerns and who they relate to.

If a formal grievance does not resolve matters, or you feel this option may not be sufficient, then you can make a claim at an employment tribunal. Contacting an experienced employment solicitor is vital if you choose to pursue a tribunal. 

What If I'm Treated Poorly After Reporting Sexual Harassment?

Some people are reluctant to come forward and report sexual harassment, fearing that their situation at work will get worse if they report the harassment. However, reporting the incident can help to resolve it and ensure that your concerns are taken seriously.

On the other hand, if you are treated any less favourably at work due to a sexual harassment complaint, and you leave your job as a result of the fact that your complaint has not been addressed, then you could have a potential claim for constructive unfair dismissal. We would always encourage you to speak with an employment solicitor before taking the step to resign.

Deana Comments:

"Sexual harassment is somewhat of a taboo topic, which many people are embarrassed to speak about and therefore society may have a false perception that this kind of thing simply does not happen.”

“This silent culture almost allows for the perpetrators to continue, hence the importance of raising awareness of the rights of those suffering from sexual harassment and how they can speak up and be protected.”

“It is important to remember that no matter how senior the person carrying out the acts of sexual harassment is, you have a right not to be treated in such a way. "

For many years, both men and women in the workplace have suffered in silence, but speaking up about sexual harassment can begin the process of getting it resolved in a positive and professional way. At Simpson Millar, our employment law specialists are on hand to help you with any sexual harassment case that you wish to take to an employment tribunal or to help you understand what options are available to you if you feel you are being sexually harassed.

Call today on our freephone number, or using the online enquiry form.

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