Sexual Harassment at Work
What You Need to Know
- Sexual harassment is against the law and, whether it is of a physical or verbal nature, it should not be tolerated.
- Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment in the work place.
- For behaviour to be classed as harassment it must be established that it is unwelcome. For this reason it is important to make your feelings known about any issues that may arise.
- If you make a formal complaint about sexual harassment it is a good idea to do so in writing and keep a copy.
- You may also want to get in touch with your union or personnel department.
- If you find the issue is not resolved, you can resort to using your companies official grievances procedure. By law your employer is required to have such a procedure in place.
- If all else fails you can take the case to an industrial tribunal, however, it is best to seek legal advice before doing so.
Sexual harassment is against the law. If you feel that you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace you should take action.
What is sexual harassment?
Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), sexual harassment could include:
- Unwelcome comments of a sexual nature
- Unnecessary touching or unwanted physical contact
- Leering at someone's body
- Displaying offensive material such as posters
- Sending offensive text messages or e-mails. This includes colleagues downloading pornographic e-mails, even if they aren't sent to you personally
Sexual harassment might not even be intentional – some people might not realise that their “jokes” are inappropriate. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to accept their behaviour.
Conduct is only sexual harassment if it is unwelcome. For this reason it’s vital that you make your feelings known and that you want it to stop.
While sexual discrimination can also affect both men and women, it isn't the same as sexual harassment. The law on sexual discrimination is designed to protect people who are applying for a job, apprentices and people on work experience, self-employed people who have a contract to provide a service, contract and agency workers and part-time workers.
There are two types of sexual discrimination – direct and indirect.
Direct discrimination is where your employer treats you less favourably because of your sex, for example, not promoting a woman to a management position or not hiring a man as a receptionist.
Indirect discrimination is where your employer has rules or policies that are not aimed directly at you but put you at a disadvantage because of your gender or marital status, for example, requiring staff to work full time. This could disadvantage women who are more likely to be looking after children.
However, indirect discrimination can be justified if it is shown to be unavoidable.
Sexual discrimination and pregnancy
You're still entitled to be treated fairly by your employer if you are pregnant or taking maternity leave. According to the CAB, you should not be dismissed because:
- Any illness connected to your pregnancy
- You want to return to work after maternity leave
- Your employer doesn't want to pay Statutory Maternity Pay
- You're chosen for redundancy because you're pregnant or for a reason related to your maternity leave, and are not offered suitable alternative employment
You might also have a claim for sexual discrimination if your employer won’t let you adjust your hours or work part time in order to look after your child.
What you can do to stop sexual harassment
If you feel that you have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual discrimination there are some steps that you should take.
The first thing that you need to do is to tell the person harassing you to stop. They might not have realised that their behaviour is offensive. However, you should only do this if you feel that it is safe.
Your employer is required by law to keep you safe from sexual harassment, so talk to your manager. Put your complaint in writing and keep a copy. If your manager is the person harassing you, talk to someone higher up.
Get in touch with your trade union if you have one, or your personnel department, who might be able to help.
Get advice from an independent source. The CAB offers free advice and details of your nearest CAB can be found on its website. The Which? Legal Service also offers unlimited professional legal advice over the phone for only £51 for 12 months.
Keep a record of any incidents that occur. Include details such as the time and date of the incident, what was done or said, who was involved and if there were any witnesses.
If you feel that you have been the victim of sexual discrimination you should keep a log of the names and jobs of those you feel were treated more favourably than you as well as details of the policy that puts you at a disadvantage.
If your employer is unable to help you solve your issues, you might have to make a formal complaint using your company’s grievance procedure. By law, all employers must have a grievance procedure.
However, before going down this route you should take into account the fact that making a formal complaint could make your time at work even more uncomfortable.
If you have not been able to solve your problems through a grievance procedure, you may have to consider making a sexual harassment or sexual discrimination claim through an employment tribunal.
There are strict time limits involved if you want to go down this route so you should get legal advice as soon as possible.
If you have been dismissed because of your claims, you might also be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal. However, you will need to prove your case so it’s essential that you collect as much evidence as possible.
You might also be able to take other legal action besides an employment tribunal, but you should take legal advice before making any decisions.
You should not be penalised for making a complaint about sexual harassment or sexual discrimination. If anyone at work does victimise you, you can make a claim for unlawful victimisation to an employment tribunal. Again, you should get legal advice as soon as possible.
- Read our guide to dealing with a difficult boss.
- If want to leave your job you can find out more about your obligations with our guide to giving your notice.
- Our guide to job interviews is essential reading for anyone in the jobs market.