The law makes it clear that sexual harassment is definitely not acceptable. Whilst there is no strict definition as to what constitutes sexual harassment, the Sex Discrimination Act gives you the legal right not to be sexually harassed at work and it is also unlawful to treat women (or men) less favourably because of their sex.
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment constitutes any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. It's not about fun or friendship but about the abuse of power. It is also worth bearing in mind that many people respond to situations in different ways. What may seem like an innocent action or remark to one person may be deemed offensive by another and the law sides with the 'victim' not the 'perpetrator'. Since there is no single definition, the test is how the recipient feels about the behaviour. Whilst men can also be subject to sexual harassment, the vast majority of cases have been by women against men. It is estimated that 50% of women in employment are, or have been, subject to sexual harassment of some form or other. It doesn't just happen to women who work in large offices or those who work within a predominantly male working environment; it can happen to people in any occupation, to any age group and from every community.
It can take place in many forms which can broadly be categorised in 3 groups:
Comments about appearance, body or clothes
Questions or comments about your sex life
Requests for sexual favours
Sexual demands made by someone of the opposite sex, or even your own sex
Promises or threats concerning a person's employment conditions in return for sexual favours
Looking or staring at a person's body
Display of sexually explicit material such as calendars, pin ups or magazines
In the first instance, you should try to confront the harasser. It may be that their perception of harassment is not the same as yours and they didn't realise you found their behaviour offensive. When you confront them you should:
Speak clearly and slowly, maintaining direct eye contact
Describe the behaviour, its effects on you and that you want it to stop
Ignore any attempts to trivialise or dismiss what you have to say
Don't smile or apologise. This will undermine your complaint
When you have finished what you want to say, walk away - the less you say, the more powerful you will be
However, you do need to speak up straight away. It may be that you choose a confidante, a colleague or union representative to give you moral support. They could also act as a witness to any incidents of improper behaviour.
If you feel you can't confront the harasser face to face, you might prefer to write to them to explain that their behaviour is making you feel uncomfortable and that you want it to stop. Keep a copy of the letter and let them know that if their behaviour persists, you will take the matter further.
Keep a Diary
Note down all the behaviour that offends you, the dates, times and location where the behaviour took place and if there were any other people present, keep a record of their names. This will help you if you need to make an official complaint.
What if it Continues?
Once you've confronted the perpetrator, if the behaviour continues you need to tell your employer. Many employers have a procedure - follow it. Your employer should investigate your complaint and deal with it. You have the right to take someone with you to any meetings about your complaint. They can back you up if necessary. Once again, keep a written record of everything that happens.
When and Why Should I Take my Case to a Tribunal?
Employment Tribunals are external committees who assess whether employers have acted unlawfully and seek to resolve the problem. You should go to a tribunal if:
The harassment continues after you've told the perpetrator to stop and you've reported it to your employer
The harasser owns the company and there's no-one else to complain to
If you are not happy with the way the investigation was handled and/or you are not satisfied with the outcome
You MUST File Your Complaint Within 3 Months of The Incident Taking Place.
The Employment Tribunals Commission and your local Citizen's Advice Bureau can offer you excellent guidance and advice about this type of complaint.
Sexual harassment at work threatens your confidence and self-esteem. It can stop you working effectively, undermines your dignity and it can affect your health and happiness.
Nobody should be subjected to it. Fortunately, a variety of laws exist to protect you.
@girl_spark. In the first instance talk to someone at college, do you have a welfare officer or a personal tutor? It might also help to have a discussion with some of your more trusted course colleagues and let them know that you feeling seriously affected by this. They might be able to put the perpetrator straight on what he obviously thinks is banter but clearly is not. If you find this is still an issue you should make a formal complaint, find out what the procedures are at your college and follow them. Good luck
SafeWorkers - 18-Nov-14 @ 11:31 AM
@kobzilla. All companies should have a formal grievance procedure. You need to follow this to make sure this is acted on. Take a look
at our guide for more information.
SafeWorkers - 18-Nov-14 @ 11:26 AM
I have told my boss about a guy who keeps touching me inappropriately and hugging me and resting his head on my shoulder over and over and my boss said he would talk to him, it stopped for a bit and continued again i kept complaing and my boss said i will talk to him but he is still touching me and hugging me and being inappropriate what should i do since my boss is my dad and he seems not to be doing much about it? should i say its him or me and threaten to quit? i dont know what to do help please
Kobzilla - 17-Nov-14 @ 5:51 PM
I've just started training as a young female electrician apprentice. I attend college one day a week with boys around different ages between 16 - 23, and I also work 4 days a week with an electrician. My trade is mostly male dominated, and before this has never bothered me, neither in work or on the college course I attended last year, both of which where I am/was the only female. Recently I started college in a new class, on a new course, for one day a week. Though most of the guys in my class do banter a bit with me about being a girl etc and some of it is sexual, it has always been stuff that I am comfortable with, but there is this one guy in my class who takes it way too far. Its been about 8 weeks now since I started college, and I figured that he'd eventually just stop bugging me and making inappropriate compliments, but he hasn't, and it's getting worse. He never says it when my tutor is around, only when the boys are around. Last week he made me feel really uncomfortable and he completely crossed the line, and when I told him he'd taken it too far, he just laughed and carried on. Now there's certain things you don't say too people, and I'm pretty sure 'I want to tie you up with your scarf and f***k you' and 'I masturbated over your profile picture 3 times' is up there as some of them. I've removed him from my social networking profiles, but I am unsure what to do with regards to working with him in college, I know if I tell someone of authority and they mention it too him, he'll know it was me. I also don't want to seem like I'm one of those women who can't take a joke because I can, but I have to spend 3 years with this guy and I'm unsure as to whether he's joking when he makes these comments, but either way they make me feel seriously uncomfortable, but nobody, with the exception of one or two, seems to understand this. Despite me telling them that some things they say make me feel uncomfortable, they just laugh and say 'I think she likes it really'. It doesn't help that the guy I'm talking about has a friend who at times can be just as bad, and who also encourages him. I don't feel there's anybody I can really talk about this too, and I could really do with some advice.
Thanks in advance,
Girl_spark - 13-Nov-14 @ 10:01 PM
@Xtremepmt. As an employee you are protected against this type of behaviour no matter how small the company you work for. This is not a good reason for being dismissed and will affect the way you are viewed for future job opportunities. Because of the nature of your complaint (ie the perpertrator is the owner's husband) you may need take this to a tribunal. You might also need professional support to take this action - so visit your local Citizen's Advice Bureau, a employment solicitor (first half hour consultation is often free) or phone ACAS. Do act quickly as you only have 3 months-minus-one-day from the date of the last incident in which to raise this.
SafeWorkers - 11-Nov-14 @ 1:02 PM
Have been on a workplace placement through the Job Centre with a small family owned boarding kennels.I am 21 yr femail. Have thoroughly loved doing the work.Despite the job centre contract being for only 30 hours a week. i was always rotated on to do up to 40 hours per week.Again, i always worked as required and was offered an Apprenticeship as the owner was pleased with my work.I jumped at the opportunity.This apprenticeship was due to begin next month.However on a few occasions the owners husband had become a bit to touchy feely with me.I am a private person who does not like their personal space invaded.I asked my mother for some guidance on how to deal with the matter as i did not want to jump the gun and say sexual harassment.I just felt very uncomfortable when he touched me (arms round shoulders, 'accidentally' brushing past my breasts type things)and couple of weeks later he touched my bottom on the pretense of brushing off some paint/muck.It really upset me so i went o see my boss (his wife) and asked if we could be put on separate shifts as he had made me feel uncomfortable... am not the best with words. But basically i was sent home and received a text later dismissing me.I am really upset as the apprenticeship was really important to me and felt that this situation was not of my own fault.I have lost my work and opportunity through being inapproapriately touched... what can i do....??
xtremepmt - 10-Nov-14 @ 12:05 PM
@Fem. Can you not tell if you're being sexually harassed? Surely if something makes you feel uncomfortable that constitutes harassment.
Fenella - 3-Nov-14 @ 12:38 PM
I was sexually harassed extensively but missed the 3 month window as did not see what was happening. No one gave me advice or supported me. However I was sexually assaultedbut need to check the legal side, sexually harassed again. Complicated & then following me online.
I may pursue a sexual assault charge but complicated situation.
Currently, I have had inappropriate comments from a colleague but no proof of this & am self employed. In fact, I have decided I cannot work anywhere as always sexually pursued or harassed. I think it is about power & control & misogny. If I cannot pursue a legal route I am writing about all of this & think there should be more training for women & girks about the workplace & how should be treated.
Fem - 2-Nov-14 @ 12:01 AM
@mels. Whether or not you consider it to be sexual harassment is irrelevant, if they are behaving in a way that is making you feel uncomfortable then you should report it to senior manager or the HR department
SafeWorkers - 17-Oct-14 @ 10:19 AM
hi, i just started my internship at a certain government department. a male colleage came to my office last week and we chatted for few minutes then he came to where i was seated (he was too close for comfort) then he started asking me when am i going home, who am i staying with and all that. later, i realised that hewas looking at my breast. i kept quiet about it.
Today, 15/10/14, i asked thesecurity guy to open the photocopy room because my thumb is notactivated due to out-dated system. so, he said asked where is my "husband" and said that he wants a wife and i will be that wife. he said "my husband" better watch out then he tried to touch me and i refused and told him to stop.
Another thing is that whenever i pass near them (him and his friend -also security guy) the look at my bottom and it's uncomfortable. his friend also made a pass on me on severaloccassions and he still looks at me in a "sexual" way. I told him that i will report them if they continue but they dont stop. Ist "Sexual harassment" or i'm being paranoid?
mels - 16-Oct-14 @ 2:17 PM
@Stw. It certainly is a difficult situation to be in but you should not have to put up with inappropriate behaviour. Start by telling the owner that you do not find the behaviour acceptable and you would prefer him to stop. If that does not work, then you will have no alternative but to complain to your own manager (who unfortunately is the wife). If this has repercussions relating to your job, you should speak to ACAS and take it to an employment tribunal.
SafeWorkers - 15-Oct-14 @ 10:26 AM
So this is really awkward. I need help. The manager is a woman she is married to the owner. The owner is inappropriate who do I complain to if he's the owner and she's the wife!
Stw - 14-Oct-14 @ 11:00 PM
Does sexual harassment need to happen more than once for it to be taken seriously? An old man that I have to work with walked up to me and put his arm around me and I had to really struggle to get out of his hold. I'm now trying to decide which course of action to take but feel maybe an informal route is enough cos he's only done it once to me. Help!
Unsupported... - 6-Oct-14 @ 7:57 PM
I work for the dwp. I have suffered sexual harassment for 4.5 years. Me and other woman. We have complained but I finally made sure it was dealth with. Im not sure whats worse the harassment or my treatment by my managers. Its still not concluded 5 months later even after last week I was told its been upheld. Im looking to take legal action for the harassment and my employer's treatment of me. If the dwp dont do what the law states how do we make things better
asdfg - 16-Sep-14 @ 7:35 PM
@C. The disciplinary procedure will be laid out in your contract of employment...each employer's procedure may vary slightly. Generally there is a written warning stating a specified period of time during which any further poor performance or behaviour will result in a final warning or disciplinary hearing with a view to dismissal etc. Here is what ACAS recommends:
"A first or final written warning should set out the nature of the misconduct or poor performance and the change in behaviour or improvement in performance required (with timescale). The employee should be told how long the warning will remain current. The employee should be informed of the consequences of further misconduct, or failure to improve performance, within the set period following a final warning. For instance that it may result in dismissal or some other contractual penalty such as demotion or loss of seniority."
SafeWorkers - 16-Sep-14 @ 10:24 AM
I have a witness who gave a statement to this investigation, but we are not allowed to talk to any other workers during the investigation, during or after the investigation has ended. Even though this person who harassed me has had two previous complaints, I am not allowed to talk about it, the managers investigating won't talk about that. Most of the investigation has been focused on what I must have done to cause it, which really upset me.
C. - 12-Sep-14 @ 11:48 PM
How many warnings does an employee have to get before they actually get dismissed for harassment? I am the third person to make a formal complaint, and the person gets yet another warning. This person in my view has got away with it again, and the warnings are just a joke. Now I am faced with having to work with this person as though nothing has happened, or leave my job.
C. - 12-Sep-14 @ 11:37 PM
@laney. You should report this to senior management or an HR department if you have one. You should not be forced out of a job you love by someone who does not know where to draw the line. Do you have any other colleagues who have witnessed this behaviour who would support you?
SafeWorkers - 10-Sep-14 @ 12:13 PM
I have just started my first job after graduation. I am subject to a 6 month probationary period and my problem is my boss, we work in a small office on our own and he wont leave me alone. I have confronted him politely but it seems to have backfired - he has now gone to higher management saying he thinks I am unsuitable for the job as I seem highly strung with problems settling and he is now aggressive and rude to me. I don't want to walk away, I love thejob but I'm in a new area in a brand new job so I don't know what to do. In no way do I believe I am being over sensitive, the sexual innuendo was blatant and obvious and he has definitely not taken my gentle but firm rebuff well. Because I am so new and on probation I don't know who to turn to but I feel my only option is to walk away from what was for me, my dream job.
laney - 10-Sep-14 @ 11:43 AM
@charlliB. You should all make a record of what he's done so you can report him through the correct channels. You should not have to put up with this kind of behaviour.
Goldrush - 4-Aug-14 @ 10:04 AM
My boss is touching our backs or rubbing our legs. Only to the girls under 20 too. The other day he said he loved her so he's let her go home early. One time my friend came in work with his friend (girl) and when she left he said to my friend "is that your girlfriend?" my friend replied "no" and he said "they're all pieces of meat anyway" and did this weird hand movement. A girl also said he said "if i was a girl and you was a lesbian, would you go out with me?" how pervy
charliiB - 31-Jul-14 @ 2:18 PM
Hi I have a stall at local General market and there is a guy who is 68 who thinks it's funny to make sexual remarks asking me to have sex with him or sexual acts . I usually just say a blunt no for Def but it's now just making me feel very down . There are owners of the market I could go to . But I am self employed and don't know how I stand ... plz help
erkan1 - 24-Jul-14 @ 11:59 AM
@Doll. You do not need to put up with behaviour of this nature. Follow the advice in the article above. You must tell your employer. Find out what the procedures are for reporting a colleague for sexual harrassment. "Your employer should investigate your complaint and deal with it. You have the right to take someone with you to any meetings about your complaint. They can back you up if necessary. Once again, keep a written record of everything that happens."
SafeWorkers - 21-Jul-14 @ 12:24 PM
I have this co worker and he is always making sexual comments to me. Recently he has been non stop talking about rape and that he would make a good rapist. Hes told me he would kill me and that he thinks slitting someones throat would be satisfying. Theres been many other things that he has said to me but they arent really things I want to mention as they are explicit and directed at me which would be embarrassing. I need advise. Can anyone help?
Doll - 20-Jul-14 @ 7:11 PM
@PTS. Sorry this is not clear...do you mean they have made up the fact that they are being harrassed or that they have fabricated evidence to show they have?
SafeWorkers - 9-Jul-14 @ 12:44 PM
What happens when the Woman or Man fabricate the harassment? What back up should the accused have in place then?
PTS - 9-Jul-14 @ 12:42 PM
What happens when the Woman or Man fabricate the harassment? Why back up should the accused have in place then?
PTS - 8-Jul-14 @ 4:59 PM
There is this guy he is a postie not our postiebut I have known him for a long time... I don't know what to do....we have a little bit of banter... sexual innuendos, etc. we have known each other for 16 years..he eyes me up all the time at first I joked about it and I would not flirt back but recently I have and I feel bad...once he even asked me 'round for coffee' I am partially sighted and this guy delivers in the main town where I live so I find it really awkward to avoid him....advice please....sometimes his comments have reduced me to tears....
50/50 - 28-May-14 @ 6:39 AM
I have a problem at work a guy at work keeps bring me coffees while am at work,now he has pulled my hair and keeps entering my personal space while am at work and won't leave me alone as I have told to get lost and even hit to get on my hair.
Now because it has been said by a few people he now has put a complaint to management about me but I have put a sexual harassment about him now I know I have profe because of the CCTV and witnesses but his well in with management and I can see this turning another way if it comes to it I think I may get the law invold any one can help please
Leeleetaz87 - 7-May-14 @ 11:04 AM
It is sexual harrassment when you report an incident from another employee ( he made a very vulgar suggestion as to what he would like to do to me sexually) to your CEO and he just laughs it off with a stupid comment like ooo I knew he was a rugger bugger but oooo and then laughs ????
I have raised this issue with other concerns to the legal department who forwarded it to HR..