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Sexual harassment in the workplace

Turning the tables: ending sexual harassment at work

Sexual harassment occurs when an individual engages in unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. It has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating someone’s dignity
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual concerned 

‘Of a sexual nature’ can cover verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct including unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate touching, forms of sexual assault, sexual jokes, displaying pornographic photographs or drawings, or sending emails with material of a sexual nature. For more information on harassment and what this means, see our page on sex discrimination

Experiencing sexual harassment is one of the most difficult situations a person can face in the workplace. No workplace is immune to sexual harassment and a lack of reported cases does not necessarily mean that they have not occurred. Recent high-profile testimonies and sharing of experiences on social media have highlighted sexual harassment in a range of workplaces, and the real barriers that many experience in reporting it.   

Employers are responsible for ensuring that employees do not face harassment in their workplace. They have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to protect their employees and will be legally liable if they fail to do so.

What are we doing?

We wrote to large employers across Great Britain to ask them to provide evidence about what safeguards they have in place to prevent sexual harassment, what steps they have taken to ensure that all employees are able to report instances of harassment and how they plan to prevent harassment in the future. 

We also asked individuals to fill in a survey on sexual harassment in the workplace. We gathered evidence from around 1,000 individuals and employers between December 2017 and February 2018 and have published a report of our findings and recommendations.

Support for employers

The ACAS website website contains information about handling complaints of sexual harassment and includes an advice line if you need further information.

You can also download our guide to sexual harassment and the law: guidance for employers.

Support for individuals

There are a number of organisations who offer support to people who may have experienced harassment, including:

Victim Support is an independent charity which provides free, confidential and tailored support to victims of crime, regardless of whether the crime has been reported or how long ago it happened. 

Rape Crisis England and Wales is a feminist organisation that promotes the needs and rights of women and girls who have experienced sexual violence, to improve services to them and to work towards the elimination of sexual violence.

You can find details of the advice line and your nearest service on the Rape Crisis website.

Samaritans is a charity who can provide emotional support for workers who are struggling to cope and need somebody to listen to them.

Call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger or if a crime is in progress. Call 101 to contact the police if the crime is not an emergency. For information on crime and policing in England and Wales, and to find your neighbourhood team, visit the website. For Scotland, visit the Police Scotland website.

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Last updated: 27 Mar 2018