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Sexual harassment

This advice applies to England

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:

  • violates your dignity
  • makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
  • creates a hostile or offensive environment

You don’t need to have previously objected to someone's behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.

What’s the effect or intention behind the behaviour?

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The law says it’s sexual harassment if the behaviour is either meant to, or has the effect of:

  • violating your dignity, or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment

If you're being harassed at work

Sexual harassment can include:

  • sexual comments or jokes
  • physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching and various forms of sexual assault
  • displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
  • sending emails with a sexual content

Example

Your employer displays a topless calendar above his desk which you find offensive. If he refuses to remove it you could take action, as this counts as sexual harassment under the Equality Act.

If you're being sexually harassed by someone you work with, you should:

  • tell your manager - put it in writing and keep a copy of the letter or email
  • talk to your HR team or trade union - they’ll be able to give you advice
  • collect evidence - keep a diary recording all of the times you’ve been harassed
  • tell the police if you think you're the victim of a crime - for example, if you've been physically attacked

If your colleague doesn't stop harassing you, you could raise a formal grievance (complaint). All employers must have a grievance process - ask your manager or HR team.

You could make a claim at an employment tribunal if you can’t solve your problem using the grievance procedure.

If you’re treated badly because of your reaction to sexual harassment

If you’re treated badly or less favourably because of your reaction to sexual harassment, you may have a claim under the Equality Act. The Act says this is also harassment. You’re protected if you reject or submit to the harassment.

The person who treats you less favourably can be the person who actually harassed you, but it can also be someone else.

Example

Your colleague makes sexual advances towards you and you say no. Your colleague then starts to bully you. Or you submit to their advances and they spread nasty rumours about you. This is unlawful and you could take action under the Equality Act.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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