Since the #MeToo movement spread rapidly round the world, the topic of sexual harassment has come to the forefront of public awareness and has prompted an intense scrutiny of offensive behaviour. A worldwide conversation has begun in the media and across social media platforms about workplace etiquette that has long been unaddressed. What constitutes sexual harassment though is not always clear so if you think you are uncomfortable about someone’s behaviour at work, here are The Citizens Advice Bureau’s formal guidelines on what it is and what to do about it:
Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
• violates your dignity,
• makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
• creates a hostile or offensive environment
You don’t need to have previously objected to someone's behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.
What’s the effect or intention behind the behaviour?
Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The law says it’s sexual harassment if the behaviour is either meant to, or has the effect of:
• violating your dignity, or
• creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment
If you're being harassed at work
Sexual harassment can include:
• sexual comments or jokes
• physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching and various forms of sexual assault
• displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
• sending emails with a sexual content
Your employer displays a topless calendar above his desk which you find offensive. If he refuses to remove it you could take action, as this counts as sexual harassment under the Equality Act.
If you're being sexually harassed by someone you work with, you should:
• tell your manager - put it in writing and keep a copy of the letter or email
• talk to your HR team or trade union - they’ll be able to give you advice
• collect evidence - keep a diary recording all of the times you’ve been harassed
• tell the police if you think you're the victim of a crime - for example, if you've been physically attacked
If your colleague doesn't stop harassing you, you could raise a formal grievance (complaint). All employers must have a grievance process - ask your manager or HR team.
You could make a claim at an employment tribunal if you can’t solve your problem using the grievance procedure.
If you’re treated badly because of your reaction to sexual harassment
If you’re treated badly or less favourably because of your reaction to sexual harassment, you may have a claim under the Equality Act. The Act says this is also harassment. You’re protected if you reject or submit to the harassment.
The person who treats you less favourably can be the person who actually harassed you, but it can also be someone else.
Your colleague makes sexual advances towards you and you say no. Your colleague then starts to bully you. Or you submit to their advances and they spread nasty rumours about you. This is unlawful and you could take action under the Equality Act.
Other useful information
Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) - If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) - You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at www.equalityhumanrights.com