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Sexual Harassment at Work

Author: Jeff Durham - Updated: 4 April 2014 | commentsComment
 
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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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..
CMIA - 27-Jul-13 @ 3:51 PM
I'm a night carer for a quadriplegic (he's paralysed from below his shoulders) and I've been subjected to sexual harassment. This person is affectively my employer and I know that he has done this with many young girls before me, and there is no one I can speak to about this, I either put up with it or lose my job which I can't afford. It is an extremely difficult situation as if this was an office job, I would have dealt with directly and immediately. The carer before me lost her job after walking out, because she rejected him he threatened to replace her and treated her very poorly. Eventually she had enough and simply left. I suffer from anxiety so keeping the peace is the main thing for me, otherwise I find it very difficult to cope and work, anything I do will cause disruption. I have been working for him for nearly a year and he asked another carer (coincidentally, my sister) if I was interested in having sex with him, he flirts and asks me uncomfortable questions such as 'Are you naughty?' and 'Do you like Masochism?' he's very forward and will openly analyse my facial expressions making the situation for me sickening. I laugh it all off and just shake my head or say 'I don't know'. Recently, as I was leaving the room turning off the light, he whispered 'Come here' three times to which I replied 'Pardon?' each time before he started laughing. What can I do?
Demi Buckley - 12-May-13 @ 3:54 AM
At the start of Feb 2012 I left my job without giving notice due to the constant unwanted attention from my line manager. I am a 29 year old male before this started was enjoying my job often working way above my contracted 40 hours (with no over time) but generally getting along fine. When my new line manager started in January, he is an older gay man, he started with stroking my arms if I had short sleeves on. My staff below me mentioned on many occassions he would be "checking me out" as I walked away from conversations with him. But I would brush it off as I was their boss and although felt humiliated I didnt want how I was feeling to affect my team. The arm stroking soon moved onto the stroking of my neck. He would often pat my bottom at the end of a work related conversation. An email he sent, although not with directly sexual content whilst discussing work said someting like "yeah baby, you and me anytime". I found my work wasnt getting done as efficeintly or to the standard that it had been prior to his arrival as I was spending much of my day actively avoiding him. On one occassion close to the end he found me in the solitude of my office, having just had a meeting with an outside party and draped his body over me trying to hug me saying "save me that was so boring" inside I was screaming save me this is killing me. The final straw came when one morning for work we had to go together to visit one of our suppliers. Upon leaving around 11am his suggestion was instead of going into work we could go back to mine so "you could prove to me gary oldham is a good actor". After this I avoided him at all costs until I didn't return to work. Since leaving I have been diagnosed with depression, and been givien a whole bunch of anti depressants, sleeping pills and anti anxiety tablets. To clarify I am not a homophobic, I have worked in theatre since a young age always had gay friends and my last roomate of two years was gay. I don't deal with confrontation well and have never been in a fight. I am yet to receive my final pay or P45. Does anyone have any advice?
LB7 - 28-Mar-13 @ 12:31 PM
Is it sexual harassment when i look up her skirt or down her top i think she likes it.
bigman - 10-Jan-13 @ 9:33 AM
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