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Sexual Harassment at Work

Author: Jeff Durham - Updated: 7 May 2015 | 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:


  • 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

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

  • 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]
@Pixie. No you're right, unfortunately the employment rights information we have detailed on here will not be relevant in his situation. Your friend should try and get the help of a solicitor. Citizen's Advice is the best place to start.
SafeWorkers - 13-May-15 @ 9:47 AM
@Molly. This is a matter for the police. Do not let anyone get away with this behaviour. Tell your manager you want to make a formal complaint and he/she should be able to direct to the correct complaint procedure.
SafeWorkers - 11-May-15 @ 2:31 PM
@Feelinguncomfortable. If it's affecting the way you work, you need to say something. Just have a quiet word and say that you're really pleased at the way the relationship's going but that you're finding some of the related 'activity' a little distracting.
SafeWorkers - 7-May-15 @ 2:20 PM
my friend was out with friends and was a little drunk and then a week later he got called to the police station being accused of touching a woman from the local pub now he has to go to court and he has not done anything wrong and is being falsely accused and he isvery concerned as it is her word against his i no this is not work related but thought you maybe able to givea little advice
pixie - 7-May-15 @ 11:48 AM
Recently there's been a guy at work who keeps trying to touch and kiss me but y.day I was on a late shift and as I finished to go to the women's changing room he followed me in and tried to undo my trousers and put his hand there and kiss me no1 could hear as the changing rooms are on -1 I don't know what to do i repeatedly asked me to get off me but he wouldn't I don't even want to go to work anymore
Molly - 5-May-15 @ 1:03 PM
My boss has a new boyfriend. I am very happy for her, he is such a great guy and perfect for her, which is awesome!!We sit at our own desk 25ft apart from one another and can see and hear each other very clearly. My issue is....when her boyfriend comes in they constantsy kiss and even sometimes they back rub each other while they are near me. I totally understand a hello kiss and goodbye kiss. I'm cool with that. But sometimes he stays in her office for a couple hours doing work and they sit side by side and kiss every few minutes and it drives me bonkers.I'm trying to work and all i her is their mouths smacking kisses, small deep breathes whispering and giggling and I can see it from the corner of my eye the whole time. The back rubs are kinda gross. I think that should be kept private. Especially when they make gestures how good it feels by shutting their eyes and sighing or quietly groaning about it. I try my best to ignore it, but it is completely impossible. Here's my other issue, I get along with her extremely well and consider her a very good friend and almost like family and don't want to risk my job by any means or harm our friendship. But this makes me sooooo incredibly uncomfortable that I can't concentrate when he's here. If I didn't have to see it or hear it, than i couldn't care less. What do I do, is any of this considered harassment or am I just blowing it out of proportion?
feeling uncomfortabl - 1-May-15 @ 2:36 PM
@araz. We don't know the full details of the case unfortunately but if you feel you have been discriminated against because of your race then you should speak to ACAS for advice on your next step.
SafeWorkers - 29-Apr-15 @ 12:02 PM
I work for an organisation from 2014.But after joining most of the people at work they were targeting me to find some reasons. I must leave the job. How ever iam very strict when it comes to policies and procedures. Due to that they came up with a plan of my attitude. and they gave a complain to the management. it dint worked out I had many issues with one particular colleague who always was a trouble maker he once discriminated me by race. How ever recently he and her girlfriend works in the same place her girlfriend is making a wrong allegation that i touched on her shoulder . I was shocked and surprised to know about that because i have never done that and they came up with this idea and threatening me they will go to police and make me arrest. what would be your advice in regards to that.
araz - 24-Apr-15 @ 1:01 AM
@janster44. Raise a formal grievance following the steps in the article above.
SafeWorkers - 21-Apr-15 @ 2:40 PM
My daughter's supervisor told her yesterday that she looked like a tart and that her shorts were too tight, which he immediately changed to 'oh no it's just your legs are too fat', then went on to say that she had varicose veins and my daughters legs were hairier than his. This was before she changed in to her work clothes. She ran upstairs at work and burst in to tears. I have spoken to him but he has denied the whole conversation. Another supervisor heard some of the comments but he has also denied this has happened. What should we do?
Janster44 - 19-Apr-15 @ 11:36 AM
@bemused. If the senior management ignored this complaint, you should refer it to HR. If that doesn't incite a response then your next step is an employment tribunal as detailed in the article.
SafeWorkers - 27-Mar-15 @ 2:25 PM
Hi.I recently witnessed an act which I would describe as sexual harassment.It happened in a room full of men (10 maybe 12) and the Senior manager in the room put up a photo on his laptop of a female employee, expanded it to show her mouth and in front of the group pulled it into his groin repeatedly simulating oral sex.What followed I can only describe as a bull pit of baying men. I did report it to more Senior management along with other things but he left that comment out of the notes.What do I do?
bemused - 25-Mar-15 @ 8:23 AM
@Shelbym. Make a note of the time, date and location of all the incidents, what was said or done, details of anyone who you told at the time or who witnessed the incident etc. Follow your employer's grievance procedure. If there isn't one you can use the ACAS one . If you are unhappy with the outcome of using the grievance procedure or feel uncomfortable continuing as you are, then you should make a claim for sexual harassment (or unfair dismissal if you end up dismissed) to an employment tribunal. There are strict time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal. You've usually only got just under three months minus from the date of the last time you were harassed. A Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help or refer you to a specialist employment adviser if you need one.
SafeWorkers - 24-Mar-15 @ 12:36 PM
The person harrassing me is the owner of the whole company I work for. He has always made remarks towards me, but in a supervisor interview I had with him a few days ago, he groaped my bottom and kissed me, also told me that I had to touch his penis and keep it a secret. I didn't know what to do at the time and I was scared that I would lose my job if I didn't give in to his demands. I told a few close friends and that said its harassment, but I don't know what to do?
Shelbym - 20-Mar-15 @ 11:26 PM
@NL. If you employer has not helped you, you will need to take this to an employment tribunal. Here's a link to the government information.
SafeWorkers - 19-Mar-15 @ 11:52 AM
i work in a car company, not going to state where but I port cars. there's this guy that works in the service department that I barely talk to. he came up to me a couple months ago and tried to hit on my, I kindly rejected him. after that I seen him and tried to say hello in a frriendly manor and he said to me "f*** you I don't f*** with you. every time I seen him after that he acted like I was invisible, which I didn't care. 2 weeks ago he came to my boss and asked if he can grab a porter to go on a car run with him, he came and grabbed me. on the run he noticed my engagement ring (recently engaged) and sid congrats, then started saying how he could never get married, girls don't like him. he then tried to grab my phone, and kept asking to see it so he could show me something, while his phone was in his hand. I said no, then he pulls down a side street, completely out of the way we were going on to a dead end road, I was scared. he then put his hand on the top of my mouth and rubbed it, I imediatly told him to stop, he proceeded to do it 4 more times, and I kept screaming stop! also he told me that there was no car to pick up, and that's the 2nd time thats happend. as soon as I got back to work I told my boss, I asked him to please handle this situation and he said he would, the next couple days I seen the guy again while he was pulling into the service lane, he got out the car and put his hand on my mouth again, about 3more times, I ran to my boss, and asked him if he'd taken care of it, he said he talked to the guy, I told him he's lying because he did it again. I went above him and called the gm and explained what happen, we had a meeting on monday and they told me that he's no longer allowed to be around me etc. I go back to work after 3days and he pulls into my lane, I am not comfortable working with him !!! my employer has done nothing to help me, what is my next option ???
NL - 17-Mar-15 @ 3:20 PM
@Paul. Maybe have a word with one of them and tell them how it's making you feel. Ask them to imagine how they'd feel if it the situation was reversed. If this does not work, report it to the management and ask if they can address this in a sensitive manner that will not incite further harassment or ridicule. If that doesn't work, consider a formal complaintthen employment tribunal.
SafeWorkers - 16-Mar-15 @ 1:53 PM
I am working in the food industry i am a trainee cook/chef at moment. I work with females mostly and a couple have made crude rude remarks about my "manhood" and asking questions about my sex life (etc). I find this embarrassing and don't know what to say, they tend to say thing's when a couple other staff members are around and act like it's ok to say and do these things. This is just a couple of things that has happened so far. I would just like to know your views on this because, i genuinely don't think this is appropriate at all
paul - 13-Mar-15 @ 8:42 AM
So basically, in my work place my supervisor from day one had added me on social networking. I was 17 when I started, 20 now. He would always be flirty, on this, and sent me pictures of himself. I always told him it was innaproriate, however always forgave him after it. I seen him as a friend and no more always. I feel really guilty about the whole thing as he has just been charged with crime of a similar nature. I feel like I could of prevented it, I always told him he was innaproriate, but never felt I could report him as he was such a different person in the workplace and seemed nice. So confusedz I thought I had led him on at the time. I'm not sure what's right or wrong now. He is no longer working with the organisation, I just wanted more takes on the situation. Thanks
Sheehan - 5-Mar-15 @ 5:16 PM
@Charlie. Speak to your employer. Have you got the support of any of your other colleagues, even the male ones? Perhaps they can back you up with witness statements. It's important that you do raise this with someone before it progresses or affects your career.
SafeWorkers - 2-Mar-15 @ 2:14 PM
Hi, just after some advice. I currently work in heavy plant hire which is very much a male dominated environment. I have worked here for nearly 8 years and like any workforce have a laugh and a joke with other members of staff. I have always had a problem with the manager with regards to his sexual references. He is always saying things about how he could treat me better than my boyfriend and the things he could do for me. He has got a wife that works in the same offices but always tends to say things when she is not around. He thinks because he's got lots of money that he's gods gift. He puts his arm around me sometimes or touches my waist but does this also with another woman member of staff. I just pull away when this happens because I just feel repulsed by it. I feel that because he is my boss he can say and do what he likes but I feel I am stuck because if I say anything I will lose my job. I am on a LinkedIn network for businesses which you have to do a profile on including a picture. For the past 3/4 weeks plus he has been on my profile about 3-4 nights of the week. I am beginning to get seriously freaked out by all this now because there is no need to look at my profile because nothing changes. Help!!
Charlie - 26-Feb-15 @ 10:32 AM
@nelly. You shouldn't have to put up with this. Follow the advice in the above article to deal with this. Do let us know how you get on.
SafeWorkers - 18-Feb-15 @ 11:41 AM
One of my fellow team leaders slapped my arse it made me feel uncomfortable she also made several unacceptable touches to me last year. Im a male and she is a very dominant female. It is also upsetting my girlfriend.
nelly - 16-Feb-15 @ 8:22 PM
@CB. All you can do is state the facts as you experienced them. If further action is taken and you end up dismissed, then you should seek legal advice if you feel you have been unfairly treated.
SafeWorkers - 5-Feb-15 @ 12:16 PM
Hi I was wondering if I could get some help I've been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace I work as a chef we have been well documented to have a bad sense of humour and have a laugh we have a waitress who spent the last month flirting with the head chef making fairly sexual coment after the 3 of us were talking about who she got on with at work and having banter about it not sexual she made a coment about a pot washer saying she was worked he might lock her in when she was alone I made a coment and I quote he did look abit of a rape type only after the rape word had been used by both the head chef and her she's now acousing me of forcing to have a threesome and when she said said I was going to rape her she carried on laughing and joking all afternoon and said nothing to say that I had affected her in any way please help I'm not that kind of person to affend people and I would not say anything like this I'm worried because I still have to work there when she's at work and worried she might say I've done something else I was looking for another job and the head chef did know the day before this happened seams like there just trying to find a way to get rid of me help
Cb - 2-Feb-15 @ 10:32 AM
@meg. You should report this kind of behaviour to the police and can do so retrospectively regarding your previous experience. If you have any indication that your new manager will behave in the same way, immediately refer them to senior management following the procedure in the NHS employee handbook.
SafeWorkers - 22-Jan-15 @ 10:19 AM
i suffered for years at hands of a superviser in the nhs housekeeping. the start of it was text messages of obscene content, then actual calls when he was masturbating on the phone, this progress to him coming to my work area when i was alone, i was forced to perform sexual acts.I eventually snapped i texted him saying i would report him.He made a complaint about me as he said he would. He got me fired management sided with him. I have been offer another cleaning job and am now suffering anxiety as I will be once again under a male superviser.
meg - 19-Jan-15 @ 7:40 PM
@JC. Simply stand your ground, remain calm and state your case. There should be some evidence and if your colleague is lying this will come out at a hearing. If there was anyone with you at the party, who could vouch for you, that would also help.
SafeWorkers - 19-Dec-14 @ 12:20 PM
I have been falsely accused of touching a colleague at a drinks party. This simply never happened yet I am being invited to a disciplinary hearing. On what grounds could this brushed against me as I am innocent. Is it literally my word against hers? Feeling devastated and powerless I don't even know this person.
JC - 18-Dec-14 @ 6:40 PM
@Jc53. Unfortunately, as it is now more than 3 months since the harrassment took place, you will not be able to take this to a tribunal. If the sexual harrassment is continuing then make another complaint. If nothing is done be sure to take this to a tribunal before the required period ends (3 months minus one day, from the date of the offence). Here is another Q & A article that we have on this topic, which you may find useful
SafeWorkers - 18-Dec-14 @ 1:57 PM
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