Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Employment Law

According to the United Nations, 97% is the percentage of women between the ages of 18 and 24 in the United Kingdom that have experienced sexual harassment. What is even more worrying is that this research found that a further 96% of women outside of that age range have not reported their experiences as they felt it would not change anything.

Throughout the pandemic (March 2020) violence against women has increased at a rapid rate, as has sexual harassment cases. These statistics are scarily endangering basic human rights. On top of women not being able to walk safely in many public areas, numerous women have reported that they do not even feel safe in their workplace.

In 2018, Acas reported that 25% of women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment in work through to a colleague’s inappropriate actions and often, a senior manager. A further 20% of women surveyed felt that they did not feel comfortable or safe enough to report their experiences to their HR Team or Senior Management.

Studies have shown that sexual harassment is even more common for women with disabilities, from black and ethnic minority backgrounds or who are part of the LGBT community. ACAS lastly reported that 92% of the people surveyed agreed that they understood what sexual harassment was and that it was unlawful in the workplace. Which then begs the question: if people understand that it is wrong and they know exactly what constitutes sexual harassment, then why is this still happening?

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined under the Equality Act 2010, as any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature or conduct that is unwanted, offensive, and that makes someone feel uncomfortable, intimidated, humiliated, or scared.

The following acts therefore amount to sexual harassment at work:

  • Making sexual comments / jokes to or about a colleague; this can be in person but could also be online, or through a messaging platform.
  • Unwanted physical contact such as inappropriate hand placements on a colleague.
  • Making the working environment hostile and conditional based on sexual favours for promotions or to keep their position.

The above statistics show that women are experiences these behvaiours towards them therefore there is a lack of awareness within organisations and it more than likely this behaviour is being brushed under the carpet as ‘banter or just a joke’. Our solicitor Alicia Collinson recently recorded a podcast with Girls in Work on this topic. Alicia gives her advice as to what can be done in situations where this type of behaviour is brushed off as ‘banter’. You can listen to the podcast here

Employer’s Response

 Employers should ensure they know how to deal with such behaviour if ever witnessed or reported.

Thrive and Champion Health put together a guide on How to Stop Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, you can access your free guide here.  Here are some steps employers can put in place;

  • A clear and concise Anti-Harassment Workplace Policy

This will inform potential perpetrators and victims of what will happen if harassment of any form takes place. This can help deter those who do it if they know their actions will be taken seriously with consequences but will also help victims feel safer and confident with what their employer will not tolerate.

  • Engage with your staff by conducting regular 1-2-1 meetings with them.

Taking this type of action will help to understand and identify employees who may need your help and this type of communication can be much more effective, possibly finding the source possible issues of harassment much quicker. It also ultimately opens a dialogue, so if employees feel able to discuss day to day issues, they will be more comfortable to share more personal concerns or incidents.

  • Effective Training

All staff whether they are new starters or have been employed with you for years should be actively participating in courses made mandatory by company policy. These courses can help staff with sexual harassment awareness which allows colleagues to be more educated about situations they may find themselves or others in, how to approach, support and report. It also discourages the idea that an employee “didn’t know it was wrong”.

Effective training also helps an employer defend any claims against them, if an employee who suffers sexual harassment brings a Tribunal claim. If the company can show that they did everything reasonable to prevent discrimination, this can be a defense on the part of the company.

  • A safe and reassuring report system

One of the biggest issues that women especially face is not being believed or taken seriously. This type of ‘it will be okay or just get over it’ attitude results in the preparator facing little to no repercussions and the victim’s mental health and safety are at risk. Employers must support and create a safe environment for victims where confidentiality is of the utmost importance.

The only way to help tackle the issue of sexual harassment is by education, awareness and everyone in the workplace as a team taking action to help prevent it.

Let’s strive to do better. We deserve better.

Did you know we provide outsourced HR services to businesses?

 As an owner-run company, we know the pains of having to wear many hats and how time is precious. As qualified employment and HR lawyers, we know the consequences of getting HR decisions wrong. We work with you to let you focus on what you need to be doing in the business with the peace of mind that all letters and decisions are run past a qualified lawyer before you implement them.

When you partner with Thrive for outsourced HR support, we can reduce your stress and free you up to work on the business and to make HR decisions with confidence.   

With people at the core of every successful business, keeping on top of the ever-changing legislation and making the most out of your people can be challenging, but we are here to help.

We can also support your business in the event an employee approaches Acas or the Employment Tribunal

Get in touch today to invest in your business and make your HR stress free. Email enquiries 


Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions at   


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