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What is sexual harassment and what can be done about it?

View profile for Maria Chadwick
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A guide to dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace

Since allegations have been reported that a Hollywood film producer has allegedly subjected women to sexual harassment over a prolonged period of time, reports of sexual harassment generally appear to have been brought to the fore in recent media articles

But what is sexual harassment; and what can you do if you have been a victim of such conduct?

Under section 26 of the Equality Act 2010, a person (A) harasses another (B) if:

(a) A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and

(b) The conduct has the purpose or effect of—

(i) violating B's dignity, or

(ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B

In the context of ‘sexual harassment’ such conduct must be relating to or as a result of the victim’s sex. This is a wide ranging provision and therefore covers a vast array of incidents and/or behaviour, including but not limited to indecent or suggestive remarks and inappropriate physical contact.

Although many defendants/respondents to such claims have attempted to defend their actions by attempting to justify their behaviour as ‘banter’, it is important to note that such conduct cannot be justified if it is considered by those subjected to it as degrading or humiliating. It is therefore important to consider the impact that such remarks may have on another person.

A survey conducted in 2016 jointly by the TUC and Everyday Sexism reported that nearly 52% of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, nearly a quarter had been touched without invitation and a fifth had experienced a sexual advance.

Claims for harassment under the Equality Act 2010 cannot generally be brought against individuals unless the discriminatory act took place during the course of their employment. Harassment claims can also be brought against employers, service providers and associations.

If you feel that you may have been subjected to sexual harassment it is important to remember that there are strict time limits to bring such a claim in the court or the tribunal.

To bring a claim in the employment tribunal regarding harassment in the workplace, your claim must be made within three months, less one day, of the discriminatory act.

To bring a claim in the County Court regarding harassment your claim must be made within six months, less one day of the discriminatory act.

If you need further advice regarding discrimination, please contact our department on 01616 966 229.