Sexual harassment in the workplace
As employment law experts, we’re here to help and advise you on what options you can take and your legal rights if you’ve been sexually harassed at work.
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What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim, whether this behaviour was intended or not.
Behaviour that amounts to sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful.
What are examples of sexual harassment in the workplace?
Sexual harassment can take many different forms in the workplace, both in-person and online, both physical or verbal. Examples of this behaviour include:
● Making inappropriate remarks about someone’s appearance
● Asking personal questions of a sexual nature
● Touching someone without consent
● Sharing sexually inappropriate images, videos, notes, emails and letters
● Staring or displaying body language in a sexually suggestive manner
● Making offensive sexual comments
Experiencing such actions can make your working environment a hostile and uncomfortable place to be.
What can you do if you’ve experienced sexual harassment at work?
The victim of sexual harassment doesn’t have to be the target of the behaviour. Anyone can be affected by the offence and take action to prevent this from happening again.
In some circumstances, and if you feel comfortable doing so, you could first speak to the person who is displaying this behaviour, ideally with a colleague as a witness. They may not have realised they’d offended or upset you, take the understanding that this isn’t appropriate and change their behaviour. You could also speak to a person of authority or Human Resources as an initial method of reporting sexual harassment at work.
If sexual harassment continues to be an issue, we recommend that you consult your employer’s policy regarding the process for making a harassment complaint. If you choose to raise a complaint, your employer has a duty to handle this in a very serious manner with fairness and sensitivity.
Recording when the incident(s) occurred and exactly what happened can be beneficial, especially if you find discussing the experience distressing.
If your employer doesn’t take appropriate actions or is unwilling to put a stop to the harassment, you may choose to accelerate your case further.
Can you make a claim against your employer?
Though responsibility for the actions can lie with the perpetrator, your employer is responsible and liable for conduct that has been done by an employee during their employment. It doesn't matter whether it was done with the employer’s knowledge or approval. This is called ‘vicarious liability’ covered by the . This can also include events that haven't taken place in the workplace but on a work night out or staff party.
You should speak to an experienced sexual harassment lawyer for expert advice on your particular circumstances, your legal rights and how you wish to proceed in the first instance.
If you choose to pursue a claim against your employer, you must inform the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) before you make a claim, who will then offer early conciliation upon which they discuss the issue with yourself and your employer to reach an agreement. If this solution isn’t successful and you would like to proceed with your claim, ACAS will provide you with a certificate as evidence that the mandatory conciliation has taken place.
You must submit your claim to the employment tribunal within three months (minus one day) of when the harassment occurred. The date from which the time limit will start to run may differ if you’ve experienced a series of acts, and again you should seek legal advice upon this instance.
Unlike other forms of discrimination, you will not have to provide evidence that others in your working environment are treated more favourably.
How can seeking legal advice benefit your position?
Our sexual harassment lawyers are on hand to give you the confidence and clarity to bring justice for any violation, embarrassment or hostility you’ve endured.
Our experts can guide you through the process from start to finish, advising on which options and route are best for your specific circumstances. We strongly believe that sexual harassment within the workplace shouldn’t be overlooked and any employer who chooses to ignore these instances should be held liable.
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