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Sexual Harassment at Work

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 12 Dec 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment At

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:

Verbal

  • Comments about appearance, body or clothes
  • Indecent remarks
  • 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

Non-Verbal
  • Looking or staring at a person's body
  • Display of sexually explicit material such as calendars, pin ups or magazines

Physical
  • Physically touching, pinching, hugging, caressing, kissing
  • Sexual assault
  • Rape

What Can I do About Sexual Harassment?

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.

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[Add a Comment]
Letha - Your Question:
I started work on 6 November and my employer started showing interest in me. He started texting me and when I didn't respond he got angry. So I responded and said all he wanted to hear because I was scared I work from his home and he kept telling me that he created the job for me and he wants me to be successful. He started touching me inappropriately and tried to kiss me he asked pictures from me but I didn't send them. I once asked him how much he is willing to pay to see those pictures I didn't mean anything by this I was just continuing with the conversation to keep him from touching me

Our Response:
If the person doing this is your employer you may have to consider taking this to a tribunal. See our guide here for more information/a>
SafeWorkers - 15-Dec-17 @ 11:57 AM
I started work on 6 November and my employer started showing interest in me. He started texting me and when I didn't respond he got angry. So I responded and said all he wanted to hear because I was scared I work from his home and he kept telling me that he created the job for me and he wants me to be successful. He started touching me inappropriately and tried to kiss me he asked pictures from me but I didn't send them. I once asked him how much he is willing to pay to see those pictures I didn't mean anything by this i was just continuing with the conversation to keep him from touching me
Letha - 12-Dec-17 @ 3:33 PM
I have had a frosty reception from the day I started with this certain company .A manager claims my friend is a tea and biscuits girl but I'm more of a group orgy girl he could and would not explain why . The woman in the office do not like me I get glared at and when I say good morning no one replys I am well presented and good at my job . I also asked my manager if I would be there next year and was told prob not but the company would help me look for another job I have have my all to this company and I'm very professional no reasons or explanations have been given to me .What do I do apart from walk away
Emoji123 - 5-Dec-17 @ 8:37 PM
Rusty - Your Question:
Hi I work for a large quarrying company tarmac crh were bullying is rife. I've just returned off the sick after cancer treatment and already been shouted down to and threatened by my supervisor. Other workers have been treated the same and when someone complains management don't want to know what do you think is the best thing to do please.

Our Response:
If management hasn't responded and there are no higher sections to report this to (HR, CEO team etc) or a trade union to help, then you may have to report it to a tribunal. ACAS is the first step before a tribunal can be considered.
SafeWorkers - 5-Dec-17 @ 1:39 PM
Hi i work for a large quarrying company tarmac crh were bullying is rife . I've just returned off the sick after cancer treatment and already been shouted down to and threatened by my supervisor . Other workers have been treated the same and when someone complains management don't want to knowwhat do you think is the best thing to do please.
Rusty - 2-Dec-17 @ 10:15 PM
I was sexually harassed at work and eventually left my job due to stress. I was unable to work for 3 years and after 5 years went back to work full time. I did not pursue a case as I was under an enormous amount of stress and did not feel I would get support from the council or my union.Although this happened years ago I would like to know if I can address it now with the council.
AK - 24-Oct-17 @ 11:30 AM
Grace - Your Question:
I worked in private care as a care giver , working without a contract a it's private.The gentleman was touching me inappropriately and I told the daughter as she was the one in charge of us carers.He obviously got told off and didn't do it again , however he was innappropriate in other ways , verbally and to other carers too. The wife and daughter knew this but we were told to set the boundaries.I felt like they weren't helping us emotionally , after my first incident after telling them I suffer from ptsd.They never asked if I was okay.I have quit as the last shift , he was really inappropriate, as part of my duty is to wash him , as washing bellow he said 'oh that feels too good' , I said that was inappropriate then he replied 'I thought I was doing so well , by not being handsy with you' in a moking way. I told his wife and she just said you need to tell him , so just continued the day but feeling very vulnerable and not listened too. Until he made another statement.Whilst outside he was about to say something , then stopped I asked what he was going to say , he then replied 'No it's rude and you would see it as being inappropriate ' really sarcastic.I then went inside , felt really upset continued the shift , till I went home.My partner works in insurance and is in underwriting , he said that they haven't handled any of this well and made it a safe working environment, so together we wrote a email To the daughter.As they only employ female carers and this isn't the first incident a carer has encounted with him.It's sexual harrasement and I'm trying to claim against them but just need help knowing my rights.Thank you.

Our Response:
You may be working inprivate home but you are still employed and should have a contract (
this page for more information) . Your employer also has a duty of care towards you. If you claims are not being taken seriously, you may be able to take it to a tribunal - you must contactACAS befoer doing so
SafeWorkers - 20-Oct-17 @ 3:08 PM
I worked in private care as a care giver , working without a contract a it's private. The gentleman was touching me inappropriately and I told the daughter as she was the one in charge of us carers. He obviously got told off and didn't do it again , however he was innappropriate in other ways , verbally and to other carers too. The wife and daughter knew this but we were told to set the boundaries . I felt like they weren't helping us emotionally , after my first incident after telling them I suffer from ptsd. They never asked if I was okay . I have quit as the last shift , he was really inappropriate, as part of my duty is to wash him , as washing bellow he said 'oh that feels too good' , I said that was inappropriate then he replied 'I thought I was doing so well , by not being handsy with you' in a moking way. I told his wife and she just said you need to tell him , so just continued the day but feeling very vulnerable and not listened too. Until he madeanother statement . Whilst outside he was about to say something , then stopped I asked what he was going to say , he then replied 'No it's rude and you would see it as being inappropriate ' really sarcastic . I then went inside , felt really upset continued the shift , till I went home . My partner works in insurance and is in underwriting , he said that they haven't handled any of this well and made it a safe working environment, so together we wrote a email To the daughter . As they only employ female carers and this isn't the first incident a carer has encounted with him . It's sexual harrasement and I'm trying to claim against them but just need help knowing my rights. Thank you .
Grace - 18-Oct-17 @ 2:14 PM
MooreyL - Your Question:
My husbands work colleagues are always making sexual comments about me to him and my son (they work in the same place). They say to both of them that they're going to 'sleep' with me. If they see me in public they then pass more sexual comments to them. This is now getting beyond a joke as it's daily, sometimes multiple times a day. My husband has told them to stop but they continue. Can my husband complain to HR on the grounds of sexual harassment? In my eyes it is, it's no longer just banter and they make my skin crawl when I do see them.

Our Response:
Since you don't work there it's not likely to fall into the same category as workplace Sexual harrassment. Your husband could make a complaint to his employer about the comments being made by his colleagues.
SafeWorkers - 10-Oct-17 @ 11:19 AM
Beenie - Your Question:
Where I work I live on site in staff accommodation, ive had an incidence where one night all the staff were drinking including one of the owners of the company, they all went to the local town except him. I was in the house sober as I was on duty for the night and he came up to my room and knocked on my door which I had locked. I answered as I thought something was wrong and he first of all asked for a hug which I awkwardly gave but then he tried to get more from me and kiss me. I had yo physically push him out the door and clearly said no. The business is a family run one so I didn't think anyone would believe me if I said anything but I broke down to a close friend and it's left me feeling very insecure and I'm a previous depression and anxiety sufferer so it's triggered bouts of that. I don't know what to do or where I stand. I'm now leaving the job but I don't want him to get away with it.

Our Response:
Don't let this kind of behaviour destroy you. If there is another manager that you can talk to, please do. If the manager cannot help to resolve the matter, you should simply follow your company's formal grievance procedure (all companies should have one of these by law). Sexual harassment claims can be referred to an Employment Tribunal. You only have 3 months minus 1 day from when the last harassment occurred to refer the matter to the Tribunal though so it may be that you have to make a decision about a Tribunal case before your company's grievance procedure has completed.This information and more is all contained in our guide here
SafeWorkers - 10-Oct-17 @ 11:00 AM
My husbands work colleagues are always making sexual comments about me to him and my son (they work in the same place). They say to both of them that they're going to 'sleep' with me. If they see me in public they then pass more sexual comments to them. This is now getting beyond a joke as it's daily, sometimes multiple times a day. My husband has told them to stop but they continue. Can my husband complain to HR on the grounds of sexual harassment? In my eyes it is, it's no longer just banter and they make my skin crawl when I do see them.
MooreyL - 7-Oct-17 @ 1:46 PM
Where I work I live on site in staff accommodation, ive had an incidence where one night all the staff were drinking including one of the owners of the company, they all went to the local town except him. I was in the house sober as I was on duty for the night and he came up to my room and knocked on my door which I had locked. I answered as I thought something was wrong and he first of all asked for a hug which I awkwardly gave but then he tried to get more from me and kiss me. I had yo physically push him out the door and clearly said no. The business is a family run one so I didn't think anyone would believe me if I said anything but I broke down to a close friend and it's left me feeling very insecure and I'm a previous depression and anxiety sufferer so it's triggered bouts of that. I don't know what to do or where I stand. I'm now leaving the job but I don't want him to get away with it.
Beenie - 7-Oct-17 @ 10:44 AM
Ee - Your Question:
HiI am currently going through a grievance at work where I am getting sexually harassed by a male colleague. It is being investigated and I have been told it is not sexual harassment. I believe that it is. A male colleague is treating me differently because I refused to go for lunch with him. It is largely his word against mine though. I dont know what to do

Our Response:
As the above article says, if you disagree with the way your case was handled you can consider taking your 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
SafeWorkers - 4-Oct-17 @ 12:44 PM
Hi I am currently going through a grievance at work where I am getting sexually harassed by a male colleague. It is being investigated and i have been told it is not sexual harassment. I believe that it is. A male colleague is treating me differently because i refused to go for lunch with him. It is largely his word against mine though. I dont know what to do
Ee - 2-Oct-17 @ 9:58 PM
Hi, I used to work for a company where the managers husband would sexually harass me on a number of occasions- I couldn't go to her as everything got back to him and I was quite scared of him. It's been 6 months and I've been too nervous to say anything until now... Is it too late to speak up? I no longer work for the company but is there anything I can do? I was out of work for nearly 5 months after as I was so nervous that the same thing would happen again?
Solo1 - 30-Sep-17 @ 1:26 AM
Sal - Your Question:
I have a female friend agency at work shes been there nearly 3 years. Very shy a worker asked her out lately and she refused. He wudn take no for an answer she complained 2 a supervisor amd manager but this worker seems to be related to both.No way in the world would she harass him as the tables have been turned n he complained that she harrassed him. Everyone at work knows this is not true and no one does anything about it. I need to help not just her but there are other girls. Their is a history of it but its all swept under the carpet I begining to worry as my wife and niece work here too

Our Response:
If your employer is not dealing with sexual harrassment as they should, then you could try an employment tribunal. If you do, ACAS should be contact before proceeding. Here's a link to their website
SafeWorkers - 20-Sep-17 @ 12:45 PM
I have a female friend agency at work shes been there nearly 3 years. Very shy a worker asked her out lately and she refused . He wudn take no for an answer she complained 2 a supervisor amd manager but this worker seems to be related to both. No way in the world would she harass him as the tables have been turned n he complained that she harrassed him . Everyone at work knows this is not true and no one does anything about it. I need to help not just her but there are other girls. Their is a history of it but its all swept under the carpet i begining to worry as my wife and niece work here too
Sal - 19-Sep-17 @ 8:31 PM
Mogs - Your Question:
Hi. I am sending this message on behalf of a lady in Exeter, Devon who is being sexually harassed and verbally abused by her employer. She works in a small hospitality company and there is no HR so she has not been able to approach anyone internally to report the matter. She has however reported the incidents several times to the local police but her request for help has fallen on deaf ears. The lady is from Hungary and does not want to lose her job as she may end up on the streets without a job or a home but she does not know where she can turn. Any advice you can give will be very much appreciated.

Our Response:
She should make a complaint of sexual harassment to her employer. The employer must take necessary steps to investigate the complaint. If it's not satisfactorily resolved she can then take it to an employment tribunal. ACAS is a good contact point for individual queries.
SafeWorkers - 18-Sep-17 @ 1:46 PM
Hi. I am sending this message on behalf of a lady in Exeter, Devon who is being sexually harassed and verbally abused by her employer. She works in a small hospitality company and there is no HR so she has not been able to approach anyone internally to report the matter. She has however reported the incidents several times to the local police but her request for help has fallen on deaf ears. The lady is from Hungary and does not want to lose her job as she may end up on the streets without a job or a home but she does not know where she can turn. Any advice you can give will be very much appreciated.
Mogs - 16-Sep-17 @ 12:53 PM
Rose- Your Question:
I have been sexually assaulted while I was seeking help with Computer to this person , he stood behind and lean on to my shoulder and grabbed my breasts and proceeded with kissing I stopped him and pushed him away.the outcome investigation report wasn't satisfactory that they allowed this guy to come back to the department ( he brought a challenging advisor during the meeting ) Iam not happy and shocked with the outcome.this happend in the NHS trust What should I do ? Also he has been verbally harassing me before indirectly.

Our Response:
If you're unhappy with the outcome, speak to ACAS to see whether it's possible to take it to an employment tribunal.
SafeWorkers - 18-Aug-17 @ 2:29 PM
I have been sexually assaulted while I was seeking help with Computer to this person , he stood behind and lean on to my shoulder and grabbed my breasts and proceeded with kissing I stopped him and pushed him away .the outcome investigation report wasn't satisfactory that they allowed this guy to come back to the department ( he brought a challenging advisor during the meeting ) Iam not happy and shocked with the outcome .this happend in the NHS trust What should I do ? Also he has been verbally harassing mebefore indirectly.
Rose - 16-Aug-17 @ 10:42 PM
Soria - Your Question:
An engineer at work slapped my bottom and when I challenged him and asked him to never do it again he said it's only a bit of banter if you want to take it further whatever. What can I do about it?

Our Response:
Report it to your employer. Tell them that the person in question did not seem to take it seriously.
SafeWorkers - 4-Aug-17 @ 2:23 PM
An engineer at work slapped my bottom and when I challenged him and asked him to never do it again he said it's only a bit of banter if you want to take it further whatever. What can I do about it?
Soria - 2-Aug-17 @ 3:18 PM
staz - Your Question:
Hi what do I do. I went to work as normal the boss opened up he was pushing memail with his hand on myour back at first I didn't think nothing of it then started you push me by my bottom into a class room got thir grabbed my shoulders and went to kiss me I says no and he tried again what should I do abut it ?

Our Response:
Report this to your employer as soon as possible. See our Guide Here for more information.
SafeWorkers - 2-Aug-17 @ 12:29 PM
Hi what do I do ... I went to work as normal the boss opened up he was pushing memail with his hand on myour back at first I didn't think nothing of it then started you push me by my bottom into a class room got thir grabbed my shoulders and went to kiss me I says no and he tried again what should I do abut it ?
staz - 30-Jul-17 @ 11:28 PM
My partner has been sexually abused and we don't know what to do She works as a domiciliary carer (for an agency), which means she would visit about 6 people every day, each one has some disability (age, mental, MS...) and she helps them with things they cannot do. She works with another colleague who is with her at all times. Lately, she has been visiting a man who is immobilized from the waist down. He is not suffering from a mental problem. When washing his back, he would support his head on her breast and move it around to feel them, while grabbing her butt. He insists on having a woman bathe him, as "a man is making me shy". He had slapped her butt once and apologized for it. But then he licked her ear... And grabbed her breast... My partner is a gentle soul. She feels paralyzed when these recent attacks happen. She can leave her job, we are not in financial trouble. However, she needs to feel useful and that is all she can work. She is the best possible carer and everyone who she took care of have responded extremely positively. The guy is getting a budget from the council to pay for this care work. * She talked to her colleague on site, who shrugged it off saying "he can't get it up anyway"... * She talked to other colleagues who said they logged many complaints with the agency, but nothing is being done, as this guy is a paying customer and is apparently far more important than the carers * She talked to an experienced carer who said the police/authorities won't do anything about it because he is disabled and therefore entitled to do whatever he wants without repercussion 1. I can't go have a little word with him because due to the nature of her job, I am not allowed to know where he lives 2. She can't skip this guy. They work in "routes", so she can choose to do a different route that does not include thisguy but is more hard work and pays less What are my legal ways to take action against this guy? I don't think this should keep going like this without him being run through the justice system. What employment protection rights does she have to avoid being fired or terrorized by the employer?
Mustey - 21-Jul-17 @ 10:52 AM
Cc - Your Question:
I took a casual job offered to me by an acquaintance.There was no contract or formalities over this agreement, So I have no rights.I'm a 30something single lady he's a married man, old enough to be my father.He put his hands on me in inappropriate ways when we were the only 2 in the workplace, approached me like he was playing a game of cat & mouse, backing me into corners making threatening movements advancing on me.He made comments about my personal and love life.He made a comment to suggest I was engaging in prostitution.I feel harassed, bullied and powerless. I have evidence so it would be my word against his if I tried to take action against him.My physical health and emotional state have been put under great stress due to this experience, I've been forced to leave the job and look at my options to support myself by other means, looking into benefits for the time being to get by.I want to tell my story so I may help others to take action to protect themselves when taking on any employment, even if you think the employer has your best interest at heart to begin with.Make it a formal arrangement, protect your rights and be prepared.God bless

Our Response:
Always take employment on a formal basis. If you are paid for doing regular work, a contract exists and you can take action under UK employment rights.
SafeWorkers - 3-Jul-17 @ 12:26 PM
I took a casual job offered to me by an acquaintance. There was no contract or formalities over this agreement, So i have no rights. I'm a 30something single lady he's a married man, old enough to be my father. He put his hands on me in inappropriate ways when we were the only 2 in the workplace, approached me like he was playing a game of cat & mouse, backing me into corners making threatening movements advancing on me. He made comments about my personal and love life. He made a comment to suggest I was engaging in prostitution. I feel harassed, bullied and powerless. I have evidence so it would be my word against his if I tried to take action against him. My physical health and emotional state have been put under great stress due to this experience, I've been forced to leave the job and look at my options to support myself by other means, looking into benefits for the time being to get by. I want to tell my story so I may help others to take action to protect themselves when taking on any employment, even if you think the employer has your best interest at heart to begin with. Make it a formal arrangement, protect your rights and be prepared. God bless
Cc - 1-Jul-17 @ 4:50 PM
Summer In Sussex - Your Question:
HiMy boyfriend came home quite shocked about what happened over the weekend to his co-worker who is only 16. The staff went out for a drink on the Friday, he didn't go but this morning the 16 year old confided in him that the office manger kissed her and she is now in trouble with her boyfriend who also works at the same firm. The office manager is a bit of a power trip type and the HR woman has no HR experience and has shown she knows nothing of employment law or treating employees with respect she just likes giving out written warnings and making a big deal of escorting employees off the premises. I was shocked and to be honest a little concerned for the young woman's welfare. What can my partner do to support her without getting the sack himself?Any advice?

Our Response:
She should report this to HR - if she's not confident that the correct procedure will be followed, she should include information from the above article. There is also some more information in our guide: Sexual Harassment: Your Questions Answered here
SafeWorkers - 21-Jun-17 @ 12:58 PM
Hi My boyfriend came home quite shocked about what happened over the weekend to his co-worker who is only 16. The staff went out for a drink on the Friday, he didn't go but this morning the 16 year old confided in him that the office manger kissed her and she is now in trouble with her boyfriend who also works at the same firm. The office manager is a bit of a power trip type and the HR woman has no HR experience and has shown she knows nothing of employment law or treating employees with respect she just likes giving out written warnings and making a big deal of escorting employees off the premises. I was shocked and to be honest a little concerned for the young woman's welfare. What can my partner do to support her without getting the sack himself? Any advice?
Summer In Sussex - 19-Jun-17 @ 6:48 PM
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