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Sexual Harassment at Work

Author: Jeff Durham - Updated: 16 October 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:


  • 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]
@mels. Whether or not you consider it to be sexual harassment is irrelevant, if they are behaving in a way that is making you feel uncomfortable then you should report it to senior manager or the HR department
SafeWorkers - 17-Oct-14 @ 10:19 AM
hi, i just started my internship at a certain government department. a male colleage came to my office last week and we chatted for few minutes then he came to where i was seated (he was too close for comfort) then he started asking me when am i going home, who am i staying with and all that. later, i realised that hewas looking at my breast. i kept quiet about it. Today, 15/10/14, i asked thesecurity guy to open the photocopy room because my thumb is notactivated due to out-dated system. so, he said asked where is my "husband" and said that he wants a wife and i will be that wife. he said "my husband" better watch out then he tried to touch me and i refused and told him to stop. Another thing is that whenever i pass near them (him and his friend -also security guy) the look at my bottom and it's uncomfortable. his friend also made a pass on me on severaloccassions and he still looks at me in a "sexual" way. I told him that i will report them if they continue but they dont stop. Ist "Sexual harassment" or i'm being paranoid?
mels - 16-Oct-14 @ 2:17 PM
@Stw. It certainly is a difficult situation to be in but you should not have to put up with inappropriate behaviour. Start by telling the owner that you do not find the behaviour acceptable and you would prefer him to stop. If that does not work, then you will have no alternative but to complain to your own manager (who unfortunately is the wife). If this has repercussions relating to your job, you should speak to ACAS and take it to an employment tribunal.
SafeWorkers - 15-Oct-14 @ 10:26 AM
So this is really awkward. I need help. The manager is a woman she is married to the owner. The owner is inappropriate who do I complain to if he's the owner and she's the wife!
Stw - 14-Oct-14 @ 11:00 PM
Does sexual harassment need to happen more than once for it to be taken seriously? An old man that I have to work with walked up to me and put his arm around me and I had to really struggle to get out of his hold. I'm now trying to decide which course of action to take but feel maybe an informal route is enough cos he's only done it once to me. Help!
Unsupported... - 6-Oct-14 @ 7:57 PM
I work for the dwp. I have suffered sexual harassment for 4.5 years. Me and other woman. We have complained but I finally made sure it was dealth with. Im not sure whats worse the harassment or my treatment by my managers. Its still not concluded 5 months later even after last week I was told its been upheld. Im looking to take legal action for the harassment and my employer's treatment of me. If the dwp dont do what the law states how do we make things better
asdfg - 16-Sep-14 @ 7:35 PM
@C. The disciplinary procedure will be laid out in your contract of employment...each employer's procedure may vary slightly. Generally there is a written warning stating a specified period of time during which any further poor performance or behaviour will result in a final warning or disciplinary hearing with a view to dismissal etc. Here is what ACAS recommends:
"A first or final written warning should set out the nature of the misconduct or poor performance and the change in behaviour or improvement in performance required (with timescale). The employee should be told how long the warning will remain current. The employee should be informed of the consequences of further misconduct, or failure to improve performance, within the set period following a final warning. For instance that it may result in dismissal or some other contractual penalty such as demotion or loss of seniority."
SafeWorkers - 16-Sep-14 @ 10:24 AM
I have a witness who gave a statement to this investigation, but we are not allowed to talk to any other workers during the investigation, during or after the investigation has ended. Even though this person who harassed me has had two previous complaints, I am not allowed to talk about it, the managers investigating won't talk about that. Most of the investigation has been focused on what I must have done to cause it, which really upset me.
C. - 12-Sep-14 @ 11:48 PM
How many warnings does an employee have to get before they actually get dismissed for harassment? I am the third person to make a formal complaint, and the person gets yet another warning. This person in my view has got away with it again, and the warnings are just a joke. Now I am faced with having to work with this person as though nothing has happened, or leave my job.
C. - 12-Sep-14 @ 11:37 PM
@laney. You should report this to senior management or an HR department if you have one. You should not be forced out of a job you love by someone who does not know where to draw the line. Do you have any other colleagues who have witnessed this behaviour who would support you?
SafeWorkers - 10-Sep-14 @ 12:13 PM
I have just started my first job after graduation. I am subject to a 6 month probationary period and my problem is my boss, we work in a small office on our own and he wont leave me alone. I have confronted him politely but it seems to have backfired - he has now gone to higher management saying he thinks I am unsuitable for the job as I seem highly strung with problems settling and he is now aggressive and rude to me. I don't want to walk away, I love thejob but I'm in a new area in a brand new job so I don't know what to do. In no way do I believe I am being over sensitive, the sexual innuendo was blatant and obvious and he has definitely not taken my gentle but firm rebuff well. Because I am so new and on probation I don't know who to turn to but I feel my only option is to walk away from what was for me, my dream job.
laney - 10-Sep-14 @ 11:43 AM
@charlliB. You should all make a record of what he's done so you can report him through the correct channels. You should not have to put up with this kind of behaviour.
Goldrush - 4-Aug-14 @ 10:04 AM
My boss is touching our backs or rubbing our legs. Only to the girls under 20 too. The other day he said he loved her so he's let her go home early. One time my friend came in work with his friend (girl) and when she left he said to my friend "is that your girlfriend?" my friend replied "no" and he said "they're all pieces of meat anyway" and did this weird hand movement. A girl also said he said "if i was a girl and you was a lesbian, would you go out with me?" how pervy
charliiB - 31-Jul-14 @ 2:18 PM
Hi I have a stall at local General market and there is a guy who is 68 who thinks it's funny to make sexual remarks asking me to have sex with him or sexual acts . I usually just say a blunt no for Def but it's now just making me feel very down . There are owners of the market I could go to . But I am self employed and don't know how I stand ... plz help
erkan1 - 24-Jul-14 @ 11:59 AM
@Doll. You do not need to put up with behaviour of this nature. Follow the advice in the article above. You must tell your employer. Find out what the procedures are for reporting a colleague for sexual harrassment. "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."
SafeWorkers - 21-Jul-14 @ 12:24 PM
I have this co worker and he is always making sexual comments to me. Recently he has been non stop talking about rape and that he would make a good rapist. Hes told me he would kill me and that he thinks slitting someones throat would be satisfying. Theres been many other things that he has said to me but they arent really things I want to mention as they are explicit and directed at me which would be embarrassing. I need advise. Can anyone help?
Doll - 20-Jul-14 @ 7:11 PM
@PTS. Sorry this is not clear...do you mean they have made up the fact that they are being harrassed or that they have fabricated evidence to show they have?
SafeWorkers - 9-Jul-14 @ 12:44 PM
What happens when the Woman or Man fabricate the harassment? What back up should the accused have in place then?
PTS - 9-Jul-14 @ 12:42 PM
What happens when the Woman or Man fabricate the harassment? Why back up should the accused have in place then?
PTS - 8-Jul-14 @ 4:59 PM
There is this guy he is a postie not our postiebut I have known him for a long time... I don't know what to do....we have a little bit of banter... sexual innuendos, etc. we have known each other for 16 years..he eyes me up all the time at first I joked about it and I would not flirt back but recently I have and I feel bad...once he even asked me 'round for coffee' I am partially sighted and this guy delivers in the main town where I live so I find it really awkward to avoid him....advice please....sometimes his comments have reduced me to tears....
50/50 - 28-May-14 @ 6:39 AM
I have a problem at work a guy at work keeps bring me coffees while am at work,now he has pulled my hair and keeps entering my personal space while am at work and won't leave me alone as I have told to get lost and even hit to get on my hair. Now because it has been said by a few people he now has put a complaint to management about me but I have put a sexual harassment about him now I know I have profe because of the CCTV and witnesses but his well in with management and I can see this turning another way if it comes to it I think I may get the law invold any one can help please
Leeleetaz87 - 7-May-14 @ 11:04 AM
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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