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
Read our advice on what to do if you're being harassed at work.
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.
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.
- Are you protected from discrimination?
- Deciding what to do about housing discrimination
- Deciding what to do about discrimination at work
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)
- You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at www.equalityhumanrights.com.
Rights of Women sexual harassment at work helpline
If you're a woman experiencing sexual harassment at work, you can get free employment legal advice from the Rights of Women helpline: 020 7490 0152
Monday 6pm to 8pm (closed bank holidays)
Tuesday 5pm to 7pm
Wednesday 5pm to 6.30pm
Scottish Women's Rights Centre Sexual Harassment Legal Service
The Scottish Women's Rights Centre runs a Sexual Harassment Legal Service that can provide information, advice and representation to women who are affected by sexual harassment in the workplace, online or in further education.