The Equality Act 2010 defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct (of a sexual nature) which has the purpose or effect of violating the victim’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim.

Sexual harassment also covers unfavourable treatment as a result of rejecting or complaining about unwanted advances or behaviour.

Here are some examples of behaviour that could constitute sexual harassment:

– Indecent or suggestive remarks
– Questions, jokes, or suggestions about your sex life
– The display of pornography in the workplace
– The circulation of pornography (by email, for example)
– Unwelcome and inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing
– Requests or demands for sexual favours
– Any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating working environment.

Sexual harassment could happen in a range of different places:

– In the workplace
– In a workplace you visit for work purposes (such as a client or patient’s home or workplace)
– On a work trip
– At a work social event
– On social media
– By email
– By telephone

You are protected from sexual harassment in the workplace by the Equality Act 2010.

It does not matter how long you have worked for your employer or what type of contract you have, you are still protected by legislation.

Your employer is not allowed to victimise you for complaining about sex discrimination or sexual harassment at work.

If you are being sexually harassed at work, it is a good idea to try and keep a detailed record of events. Write down everything that happens, including times and dates, locations and what was said or happened. It might be helpful for later if you keep a record of any witnesses who were present. If the harassment includes emails, keep copies of them. Keep copies of any relevant memos, annual reports, and meeting minutes. If you seek medical support as a result of the harassment keep records of this.

If you want to report it, what options do you have? 

In the first instance, you can report the harassment to your line manager or staff representative. If it is your manager who is discriminating against you or harassing you, you can speak to someone higher in the organisation or to the Human Resources department if one is available.

Use your organisation’s appeals or grievance procedure, if they have one. The Acas Helpline can give advice on internal processes and policies to help you through this (0300 123 1100).

If you are victimised for complaining, or for helping a colleague to make a complaint, you can make a claim for unlawful victimisation to an employment tribunal.

You can also make an employment tribunal claim if your efforts to resolve the problem by reporting it within the workplace are not successful. It is important to know that you usually have to make the claim within 3 months of the problem happening.

If you think you may want to make a tribunal claim, the first step is to inform the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

They will help you try to settle the problem with your employer using their free ‘early conciliation service’ before you proceed.

If that doesn’t work, you can start an employment tribunal claim by completing an ET1 claim form.

What if you don’t want to report officially?

One option, if you feel safe and confident enough to do so, is to talk to the harasser and tell them to stop. You may want to have a friend, colleague or your trade union representative with you when you do this. Or you may feel more comfortable asking a colleague, trade union representative, confidential counsellor or someone in personnel to have this conversation on your behalf.

In some workplaces, a harasser may be following a pattern of behaviour that sees them sexually harassing more than one person, or creating an uncomfortable working atmosphere for a group of people. If there are other people in your workplace similarly affected by the same perpetrator then getting together and supporting one another to confront the may reduce the fear of feeling alone or being stigmatised for objecting.

If you don’t feel able to speak out about the harassment, it may still be helpful to find someone you trust with whom you can talk through what has been happening –this might be a colleague, a friend, a trade union representative or a counsellor if your organisation has suitably trained people available.

If you have a union rep, then letting them know what is happening at the earliest opportunity will allow them to support you. If you are not yet a union member you can find a union here.

You can get free legal advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau

The Acas helpline (0300 123 11 00) is open Monday – Friday 8am–8pm and Saturday 9am–1pm

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Equality Advisory Service Advice line: 0808 800 0082 Textphone: 0808 800 0084T

More information about your rights at work

ACAS advice and guidance on Employment Tribunals

Citizens Advice Bureau: Understanding Employment Tribunals

Citizens Advice Bureau: Starting an Employment Tribunal Claim

Employment Tribunal customer contact centre
Telephone: 0300 123 1024 (England and Wales)
Telephone: 0141 354 8574 (Scotland)
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1024 (England and Wales)
Textphone: 18001 0141 354 8574 (Scotland)

This information was compiled in collaboration with the
Trades Union Congress (TUC)