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Sexual Harassment at Work

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 28 Nov 2015 | 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:


  • 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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I work for a very small family company and normally results in me working with the owner by myself a few evenings a week, he has been making comments since starting working for him over a year ago which was making me feel really uncomfortable, however there is no one else around so i couldn't really say anything i left for 6 month and my contract ended and I didn't have another job and he offered me my job back so I had no choice to take it until I find another job however over the past 2/3 weeks he has been locking the door and disconnected the security cameras and touching my breasts and pulling my top down and kissing my breasts, feeling my bottom and pulling me on top of him when i say no to him he continues and says he needs to because it makes him happy, now every time am in the shop with him by himself he does it and trys to take it a little bit further I have tried telling him to stop however he says if I don't i will lose my jobhowever there nothing I can do because I have no evidence that he is doing this because he turns the cameras of and theirs nobody else in the shop
llouise - 28-Nov-15 @ 3:08 AM
Confused - Your Question:
I am going to Oz in Jan, had a work night out in which the area manager was there(working in a bar/restraunt) firstly, he said "hope you come back from Oz without your boyfriend" I told him not to speak about him like that, he was constantly overly touchy feely all night, in front of other staff members.also found out from an ex staff member that he touched her up inappropriately.I have told the owner of the business and nothing seems to be getting done about it, my family think I should contact the police in case it happens again.we also know he has had previous past of this happening, as he got kicked out of university due to sexual harassment

Our Response:
Report this via the method suggested in the article above, remember you must do this within 3 months of the incident.
SafeWorkers - 21-Oct-15 @ 11:45 AM
I am going to Oz in Jan, had a work night out in which the area manager was there(working in a bar/restraunt) firstly, he said "hope you come back from Oz without your boyfriend" I told him not to speak about him like that, he was constantly overly touchy feely all night, in front of other staff members...also found out from an ex staff member that he touched her up inappropriately...I have told the owner of the business and nothing seems to be getting done about it, my family think I should contact the police in case it happens again..we also know he has had previous past of this happening, as he got kicked out of university due to sexual harassment
Confused - 20-Oct-15 @ 1:38 PM
I worked in a Care Home and my manager was exceptionally kind to me when I started to work. Then he started to text me and asking me for a drink out. I rejected but he kept texting and texting. I kept rejecting and then he made my life really difficult at work by bullying me. As I really needed this job at that time because one of my family member was ill I have eventually agreed. He appeared to be an alcoholic and drank every night after work. He booked a cheap hotel and forced me to go every time after work to this hotel. If I rejected then he would make a really bad day for me at work. I constantly complained that I am not happy but he just kept threatening and bullying me. It was five months of an awful time. When I complained that somebody was unfair to me at work he always took a part of other person. He always said me that we must keep it quiet. Anyway, after people found out about us everybody took his part and most of the staff started to bully me. At the end he just get rid me by literally dismissing me. This is not even a quartermentioned above about all the awful things that this person has done to me and my family. Over all that months this person just has been destroying me pride and dignity for his own pleasure.
Marry - 12-Oct-15 @ 12:42 PM
On sunday 2 work colleagues continuously poked my sister in her boob to the point off causing physical pain. They also commented on the size off her boobs. She has put in a written complaint to the committee ( she works in a club) but one off the boys she has complained about has called her a grass in front other colleagues and is still work alone side her. What can she do
angry sister - 18-Sep-15 @ 4:31 PM
I started working in a bar/ restaurant about 2 weeks ago the owner of the place comes every day or every other day. First he seemed friendly but today he was chatting to me and grabbed my hand then said oh your hand is cold ,then said I have the cure for that I can make your hands nice and warm if you want. I told the manager but she told me to keep to myself. Now I feel really uncomfortable working there as he owns the place. Plus he keeps making remarks that he bought a new car and has loads of money plus he is divorced.
Shyflower29 - 17-Sep-15 @ 8:50 PM
I have recently joined a small firm from a much larger one, and have joined a small team within it. In this team there are 5 of us. I work closely with an older gentleman, who is married, but lives away from his wife during the week. He is constantly making sexual innuendo comments, and makes strange comments on how other people look, then either states, out of a scale from 0 to 1, i'd give her one, or his other favourite is I'd fancy her if I wasn't gay. I presented to him and my boss on something today and I caught him twice staring at my crotch area as I spoke. I'm so new in the firm that I don't want to say anything but I have noticed that he's started to undermine my work a lot recently, change meetings and not inform me, put undue pressure on me to do work for him (he's not my boss, but we're in the same team) and get up to speed on work topics faster than is possible. I'm finding it all a bit unnerving to be quite honest. No idea what to do! He's 57, I'm 37. Does he feel threatened?
Chris - 14-Sep-15 @ 11:04 PM
Kay - Your Question:
I have worked for a small family company for about 10 years now. I split up from my husband 5 years ago and divorced; in the heat of the moment I went out for a drink with my boss and ended up sleeping with him. It was a one off and didn't happen again. I have been with my partner now for 4 years and love him to bits by my boss is constantly hassling me to meet him and says how much fun we could have together. No matter how much I tell him and how many different ways I say no he will not take any notice. He even booked a hotel room a few months ago for us to meet!! I told him to cancel it and he was in a mood for days - I thought he'd finally got the hint but no it still carries on. I am at my wits end now and dread coming to work

Our Response:
Even though this is a small family company, you must take action to stop this, especially if you're now dreading going to work. Follow the steps advised in the article above. We also have a Q&A article on this topic that might help: Sexual Harrassment: Your Questions Answered
SafeWorkers - 28-Aug-15 @ 11:38 AM
I have worked for a small family company for about 10 years now.I split up from my husband 5 years ago and divorced; in the heat of the moment I went out for a drink with my boss and ended up sleeping with him.It was a one off and didn't happen again.I have been with my partner now for 4 years and love him to bits by my boss is constantly hassling me to meet him and says how much fun we could have together.No matter how much I tell him and how many different ways I say no he will not take any notice.He even booked a hotel room a few months ago for us to meet!! I told him to cancel it and he was in a mood for days - I thought he'd finally got the hint but no it still carries on.I am at my wits end now and dread coming to work
Kay - 27-Aug-15 @ 2:40 PM
I was working in a restaurant where one of the supervisors, who asked me out earlier on in 2014 but i declined, had been sexually assaulting me. It began a couple of months after i rejected him. It started as him grabbing my ass, and then it got to the point where he would make a grab for my chest and ask me what bra i was wearing that day. I was apprehensive about going to the manager with the matter as they were considered good friends. In may 2015 i quit and i realize now that it was not the proper way to deal with the matter. This article is hugely helpful and will hopefully help a lot of other people in the similar situation i was in.
Anne - 15-Jul-15 @ 1:36 AM
@concerned. Yes tell her to voice her concerns to her manager, rather than trying to address them with the person directly if that would make her feel uncomfortable. They should take this behaviour seriously, if they do not appear to do anything to prevent further incidents then she should make a formal complaint. We have a question and answer article on here which you might find more useful.
SafeWorkers - 3-Jul-15 @ 11:28 AM
@Angryhusband. If the employer has not handled the complaint satisfactorily, then your wife should consider taking this to a tribunal. Follow the steps in the above article in the section: "When and Why Should I Take my Case to a Tribunal?"
SafeWorkers - 1-Jul-15 @ 12:43 PM
this is on behalf of my girlfriend, not sure how, buti want to advise her properly and how to proceed, she has been getting unwanted attension from a coworker im not sure if it classes as sexual herassment but he was making fun of the way she looks like by calling her fat and stuff. but recently he jabbed her in the side to make her jump, he gets too close to her when hes talking and it makes her very uncomfortable, and shes been extreamly upset, i want was hopeing to help her, ive told her that on her next shift to tell her manerger, or would it be better if she talked to him directly first to hopefully make it clear that she doensnt want any kind of attension. on her first shift together he asked if she was in a relationship she didnt want to talk about it and she felt uncomfortable then. sorry its getting too long any advise?
concerned - 30-Jun-15 @ 11:05 AM
I currently work at a small resturant/ delivery with only 4 others, being the only girl and working with Italians I am used to their flirty and sexual jokes/nature, but yesterday after recently turning 18 my boss came up behind me while i was writing something (bending over to do it) grabbed my hips and pushed up against me (slow thrusts) i kind of froze, but this isn't too weird for him so i just let it go, then shortly after he said 'your 18 now, i can give you the best night you've ever had, meet me at 11' thinking this was a joke i agreed while laughing, this then turned quite quickly while i was out for a cigarette he called me and told me not to tell the others, then asked if i would like to wait at the restaurant or leave and meet him later, as i went to leave he asked for me to go downstairs with him, i didn't want to disobey as he is my boss and all night he was threatening to fire me for silly bits and bobs, and then when it turned 11 i got so many missed calls from him so i texted him back as i didnt want to talk to him on the phone and said it was inappropriate and reminded him he had a family, i heard nothing back but now I'm not sure if i can go in to work or not, he was like a friend/father figure
Jem - 28-Jun-15 @ 2:48 PM
My inquiry is on behalf of my wife, she works for a small family business, she is one of only two or maybe three who are not family or family friend, she is in her fifties and is the oldest by several years. The younger men, in their 20's are constantly using foul language, almost every comment is crude and disgusting, they constantly discus openly and loudly about their sexual thoughts and dees and what they would like to do, about girls they know or simply fantasise about, she. Finds these comments rude, disgusting and upsetting, she has asked them to stop and all she got in return was laughter and comments about her occasionally suffering from flatulance, caused by medication, she has complained to her manager who happens to be the sister of one of the lads and got the same response, I think this is sexual harassment, she feels she no longer wants to work there because of it, what can she do?
Angryhusband - 28-Jun-15 @ 12:40 PM
A female receptionist gave a birthday hug to a female co-worker and the co-worker stated that she had touched her breast. She immediately apologised and said sorry it was an accident that she wasn't that way inclined. Two weeks later the recipient of the hug was carpeted for poor performance and during this interview made allegations about the co-worker who hugged her and the organisation she works for suspended her for unwanted physical contact and homophobic remarks. While she was suspended a couple of her co-workers came up with a list of unwarranted attention including being bought birthday presents and sharing sweets. It appeared malicious, but the organisation went through investigation and witness testimony procedures. In the disciplinary the manager stated it was all ridiculous but nevertheless she received a verbal warning for sexual harassment and was moved.
Baffled - 19-Jun-15 @ 9:55 AM
Does anyone know if there is anything my boyfriend can do. He works for a small uk company and the managing director keeps making sexual comments about the female staff i.e he wants to smash their back doors in there have also been a number of occasions when he has made comments about young teenagers. My boyfriend is getting depressed over this but he can't afford to leave his job
alleycatm1 - 27-May-15 @ 8:36 AM
@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
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