Sexual Harassment at Work: Do Your Staff Know the Rules?

Amanda Beattie

Amanda Beattie

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12 Oct 2018

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Cases involving sexual harassment in the UK are difficult to identify, and only show a snippet of a much larger, widespread issue.

Many cases of sexual harassment go unreported, while others never escalate to tribunal.

However, research in 2017 found that from over 6,000 working adults in the UK, 40% of female participants had experienced sexual harassment, along with 18% of men.

Sexual harassment is still a prominent issue today, and making sure your staff know the rules is one way you can stop the problem becoming an issue in your workplace.

What is considered sexual harassment at work?

First, we need to define sexual harassment, and what behaviours constitute it.

Sexual harassment, as defined by the Equality Act 2010, is “unwanted conduct relating to sex or of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

This definition isn’t particularly specific, so here are some examples of sexual harassment behaviour:

  • Sexual remarks, including comments on appearance or body.
  • Jokes of a sexual nature.
  • Pornography.
  • Catcalling.
  • Flashing.
  • Groping.
  • Sexual assault and rape.

Sexual harassment is also where an individual submits to, or rejects, the above behaviour and treated less favourably as a result.

For example, if a boss tells an employee they will be promoted if they have sex with them, then the employee either consents or rejects, but is then subject to less favourable treatment as a result of their choice.

For a more extensive answer to the question “What is sexual harassment?” you can take a look at the sexual harassment in the workplace report by the Women and Equalities Committee.

What does the law say?

Sexual harassment law in the UK states that some behaviours, as well as being unacceptable in the workplace, are criminal offences.

The Protection for Harassment Act 1997 protects employees from harassment and stalking, while the Sexual Offences Act 2003 protects employees from sexual assault and voyeurism.

How to report sexual harassment at work

It’s vital that your employees know how to report unwanted behaviour and know the rules. You can make the process easier for them by providing guidelines on reporting sexual harassment in your company handbook.

One way to ensure employees are reporting sexual harassment properly is to allocate a person whom people can report allegations to.

But be aware when doing this that some employees may not wish to disclose such a sensitive topic to a particular person, so always have a fall-back individual, or other processes in place.

Don't dismiss allegations based on bias towards the employee or situation.

Expert Support

For assistance dealing with a claim of harassment in the workplace, or to find out how to implement sexual harassment rules in your company policy, contact a Croner expert on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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