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Sexual Harassment at Work

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 15 Oct 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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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
What should my girlfriend do she's been grabbed by a employe at the place she cleans at he felt on her and pushed her up on a wall to touch her and the hr at his work won't do not hi g about it there was a picture taken by a super visior and more then one person said he's done it to them he's also been in trouble with the law and at his work place and they keep letting it happen should we get a lawyer or what can be done.
Herstory - 5-Jun-17 @ 9:48 PM
I was assulted at work by my client who suffers with Psychotic disorder, this is a mental disorder in which a person's personality is severly confused and loses touch with reality it is also known as Schizophrenia. I was threatned by my client with a pair of scissors also he verbaly said he was going to kill me. I tried to defuse the situation by giving him space and gently speaking to him.Their were other support workers in the house, they tried to difuse the situation but they were told to go away or l would get worse, by this time he had a pair of scissors in his hand so they left the house taking the other clients with them and locking the door's behind them. I was left with this client for two hours until l was able to get free. The paramedic and police arrived and arrested the client my employer was asked where were the panic alarms, they were told they didnt need them as the clients pay rent to a landlord and they are not responsible. I was off work after being sent home by my manager, l went to my DR's and was sent to the A&Edept for an exray, l had 2 black eyes but no fracture on my eye socket. I was suffering with stress and was given a sick note which l sent to my employers , by the third day l was sent an email to say that l hadnt turned up for work and with no reason why l would be recieving my p 45 in the post. l am now unemployed
Lady D - 21-Apr-17 @ 3:53 PM
Sadcat - Your Question:
Well it all started one day when my boss was making jokes about my bottom but I paid it no mind then one night he went to far when he took me home he started rubbing my leg and then rubbing me inappropriate then unbuttoned my pants I told him to stop and moved his hand but he kept going.what do I do I don't feel right being around him anymore

Our Response:
Report it to your employer or HR department as the article says. You must do this within 3 months of the incident. Don't let him take you home any more either. Check out are guide here, which has further information
SafeWorkers - 18-Apr-17 @ 10:27 AM
Well it all started one day when my boss was making jokes about my bottom but I paid it no mind then one night he went to far when he took me home he started rubbing my leg and then rubbing me inappropriate then unbuttoned my pants I told him to stop and moved his hand but hekept going.what do I do I don't feel right being around him anymore
Sadcat - 15-Apr-17 @ 1:27 PM
Saddness - Your Question:
Hi my boss at work is making me feel I don't want to go anymore.it started with comments about sex which he does with the other girls too. But now he went to far he grabbed me forced he hand up my top which this happened on two times in that week he says things like what I would do to me and that I'm the only one that gives him a hard on at work.and for me to feel it. Please who can I take to

Our Response:
Report it to your employer (your boss's manager) or your Human Resources (HR) department. Do this as soon as you can as sexual harrassment comlaints must be made within 3 months of the incident. If the employer does not take action, contact ACAS with a view to taking it to an employment tribunal.
SafeWorkers - 10-Apr-17 @ 12:51 PM
Hi my boss at work is making me feel I don't want to go anymore.it started with comments about sex which he does with the other girls too. But now he went to far he grabbed me forced he hand up my top which this happened on two times in that week he says things like what I would do to me and that I'm the only one that gives him a hard on at work .and for me to feel it . Please who can I take to
Saddness - 7-Apr-17 @ 1:07 PM
I work with a disabled gentleman i am the only employee and he is supposed to be my boss, he hired me therefore he is my boss. I have known this gentleman for 20 years plus but he has never made any reference to me in any way that he is or was interested in me sexually until i started working with him. When he hired me to take care of him he also hired a friend of mine as his personal chef who was to sort out his dietary needs, this was agreed and the price for the all the meal prep was 150 a month, Everything was going fine until he stopped paying for his chef and i said i will pay him out of my wages so he thinks your still paying him, i know this is something i probably shouldnt have done but at the time i thought it was the right thing to do as my boss is disabled in a wheel chair and not able to do alot of things for himself. It got to the point that paying his chef from my wages was getting to much for me and i quickly became short of money before the end of the month when i would be paid again, My boss said he would lend me money if i did something for him, This would mean a hand job once he had taken his viagra after a while this wasnt enough and he said the money i had borrowed from him even though it was to replace the money i was paying his chef would be payed back quicker if i was naked when i gave him a shower and that then the hand job in the shower with me naked would have him ejaculate quicker, stupid me agreed and this went on for sometime even though i didnt want to or wasnt in the mood he would sulk and hardly speak to me because he didnt get what he wanted. Sometimes this would happen once or twice a week as he had a shower depending on his mood once or twicea week. Then he said because the amount he was lending me wasn't going down quick enough he said he wanted full sex from me then i realized what was happening and i said no he pestered me until i broke down and said to him do you have any idea how you make me feel ? he said no so i told him that i felt like a prostitute you are paying me for sex ! His reply was No im not it wasnt meant like that as it is just for me no one else and that it hurt him i had said that and with that he back to sulking. Twice this happened and i told him NO if i wanted to payed for sex i troll the streets and have someone pay me for sex i am not a prostitute i am your Carer and your making it difficult for me to carry on like this. He replied i am sorry but its not like i can do it on my own is it ( he has rhumatoid arthritis in his fingers, back, legs, neck etcetc he said if i could i would but im still a man with needs and your the only one who i can turn to. He let slip that one of the previous carers from another company who he lent money to had to do sexual favours for him also then he harassed her to pay him back which she did. Now its my turn i have gotten to the stage where i eventually was told i was entitled to five weeks holiday so i have taken them having worked none stop for over
cassie - 16-Mar-17 @ 11:47 AM
I work within a shopping centre and a guy who works in a shop called me in asking for some information, he was stuffing a bean bag and asked me to try it to see if it was comfortable, as I did so he proceeded to roughly 'massage' my shoulders from behind, I repeatedly shouted 'stop' and he wouldn't so I had to throw myself on the floor, and I've now got extreme pain in my lower back not to mention that he has aggravated injuries I have to my neck shoulders and upper back, I can barely walk I'm in so much pain, what I want to know is, is this assault? I never gave him permission to pit his hands on me, I'm so upset
emz23 - 6-Mar-17 @ 10:00 PM
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