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Sexual harassment at work

In recent years there has been an increase in awareness from all industries that harassment while at work is not acceptable, and that no-one should fear reprisals from speaking out or “blowing the whistle” on colleagues who have subjected them to degrading or offensive behaviour.

Encountering sexual harassment in the workplace can be a humiliating experience, and lead to a loss of self-confidence and mental distress, as can a failure on the part of an employer to adequately address harassment.

If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace contact our expert employment law solicitors on 01616 966 229.


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What is sexual harassment?

The Equality Act 2010 defines sexual harassment as:

“When a person engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or the effect of violating another person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.”

The definition of what constitutes sexual harassment is wide ranging and encompasses all sorts of incidents and behaviours, whether it is indecent or suggestive remarks or inappropriate physical contact. It can also apply to actions carried out by email, telephone or other digital communications.

Harassment can also occur if your employer treats you less favourably if you have submitted to or rejected unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which creates the environment outlined in the definition.

Your employer’s responsibility

Your employer has a duty to ensure that you do not experience sexual harassment whilst at work and is legally responsible for acts of harassment carried out by their employees in the course of their employment. Employers will also be liable for persistent harassment of their employees by third parties, provided certain conditions are satisfied.

Your employer should ensure that their employees are aware of what is deemed to be acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It is also their responsibility to take appropriate action against those who do subject another member of staff to sexual harassment.

The way in which an employer deals with harassment, whether by a third party or otherwise, can itself amount to harassment if the employer’s actions are responsible for creating a hostile environment.

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Sexual harassment claims

If you are subjected to sexual harassment you should, where possible, indicate that the behaviour is unwanted to avoid claims by the perpetrator in the employment tribunal that the conduct was condoned or even accepted. A common defence raised by those accused of harassment is that the behaviour is just “banter”, but labelling offensive comments in this way does not prevent this conduct from amounting to harassment. 

Where possible keep documentary evidence such as a log of events or emails to senior colleagues complaining of the behaviour, as this will further support a claim for harassment. If an informal complaint does not bring about the desired result, the next step would be to start the formal grievance process.

It is essential that throughout this time you are aware of the deadline to start ACAS early conciliation. This deadline is three months less one day from the date of the last act of discrimination. Seeking legal advice at an early stage is recommended, as this can prevent problems arising at a later date, particularly in relation to limitation.

How can Stephensons help

Stephensons have an expert team of employment and discrimination solicitors who are experienced in advising individuals who have been subjected to sexual harassment. We understand that these cases can be highly sensitive and we can advise you on the steps you can take to be able to move forward.

If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace and would like to talk to one of our specialists call us today on 01616 966 229.

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