New guidance on sexual harassment and harassment in the workplace
All employers have a duty of care to protect their workers and will be legally liable for sexual harassment in the workplace if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it. Our guidance offers a legal explanation and practical examples of how to tackle and respond effectively to harassment.
Read the guidance: Sexual harassment and harassment in the workplace
Read our 7 step employer guide: Preventing sexual harassment at work
Watch our short video which highlights how to prevent harassment in 4 steps:
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.
Our work so far
In January 2020 we wrote to large employers (PDF) across Great Britain to ask them to take preventative steps to safeguard their employees from harassment, following the practical advice outlined in our guidance. This follows feedback from around 1,000 individuals and employers between December 2017 and February 2018 published in our Turning the Tables report.
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 for employers on preventing sexual harassment at work and our guidance on the use of confidentiality agreements in discrimination cases.
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 police.uk 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.
Rights of Women are an equity organisation and work to address the inequalities which women face in society. They provide a Sexual Harassment at Work Free Legal Advice Service in England and Wales which is a specialist, impartial service designed for women in this situation.
The Scottish Women’s Rights Centre is a unique collaborative project that provides free legal information, advice and representation to women affected by violence and abuse. They provide a Sexual Harassment Legal Service provides information, advice, and representation to women who have encountered sexual harassment in the workplace, online and in further education.
Last updated: 30 Jan 2020