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Sexual harassment and discrimination: know your rights

View profile for Maria Chadwick
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What is sexual harassment and what can be done about it?

There have been several reports in the media lately concerning a rise in complaints of sexual harassment.

This unwanted conduct can include wolf-whistling, winking, comments referring to somebody’s attractiveness, gestures regarding somebody’s sexuality, being told to smile and/or being inappropriately touched; conduct which is arguably related to somebody’s sex. It can be highly invasive, upsetting and degrading to be the person subjected to such conduct whether it is a one-off incident, or a series of incidents over a longer period of time. Upsettingly, this conduct can potentially happen anywhere, be it during work from other colleagues, clients or customers, in the street from passers by, or even from those you have entrusted to provide you with goods or services. But what can you do about it?

The law

The Equality Act 2010 refers to such conduct as harassment. The law protects you where you are subjected to unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity, or otherwise creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and/or offensive environment for you. It follows that where this conduct relates to your sex, you could have a claim for sexual harassment, and you can potentially take action in the civil courts or the Employment Tribunal.

What can I do if I feel I have been discriminated against?

If you have been sexually harassed, please know that such conduct is not acceptable, and that you may be able to do something about it.  Take the time to record the incident(s) including details such as who, what, where and when, and consider raising the unwanted conduct as a concern with the appropriate figure of authority, including the police where necessary.

As stated above, you can potentially take action in the Civil Courts or the Employment Tribunal, particularly if the perpetrator is a colleague in the workplace, the person providing goods or services to you, or even somebody acting for an organisation that is providing a public service to you. Where the perpetrator is a mere individual, who is not a work colleague, or someone with no affiliation to a business providing you with goods or services, or even acting for an organisation exercising a public function, it could be arguably difficult to pursue such a claim under the Equality Act 2010. This does not mean to say that such a claim does not exist, and we consider it important that anyone in this position considers seeking further advice regarding any possible claims of sexual harassment that they may have.

If you would like further advice, please contact the team on 0175 321 6399.

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