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Since it’s 2023 you would hope that sexual harassment in the workplace has eased off and that there are very minimal cases. Sadly, this isn’t the case, a new survey from the Trades Union Congress found that over one in two women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. This rises to nearly two in three women aged 18-24.

So, it’s vital that we all commit to a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and that employers are equipped to provide appropriate responses to those employees who disclose an incident.

Employers have a responsibility to protect all workers from sexual harassment. Incidents can come from colleagues, a manager, or a third party such as a client, customer, patient or member of the public.

There are several ways you can tackle sexual harassment in the workplace and stop it from happening.

Understanding and identifying sexual harassment

Firstly, what is sexual harassment?

In the workplace harassment is a form of discrimination that can apply to multiple characteristics (including sex) and is defined as unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment.

In the workplace an employer’s duty to protect employees is created by the framework in the Equality Act 2010.

It’s important to note that the test for harassment is ’subjective’ and depends on how someone feels because of the unwanted conduct, e.g., what one person thinks wouldn’t amount to harassment could still amount to harassment for someone else.

Sexual harassment can be physical, verbal, or non-verbal.

Some examples include:

  • Touching, pinching, stroking, squeezing, or deliberately brushing against someone
  • Leering or ogling
  • Making sexually suggestive signals such as winking
  • Unnecessary physical contact and touching
  • Physical assault
  • Making sexual comments or innuendos
  • Telling sexual jokes or asking about sexual fantasies
  • Making insults based on a person’s sex or their sexuality
  • Turning work discussions to sexual topics
  • Requests for sexual favours, often related to promotion
  • Asking questions about a person’s sex life or passing unwanted comments on their sexuality
  • Remarks about a person’s body or clothing
  • Displaying pictures, calendars, PC desktop wallpaper or other sexually explicit material
  • Sending anonymous letters of an explicit or sexual nature
  • Whistling
  • Unwanted gifts
  • Sending unwanted emails, texts, posting sexually explicit ‘jokes’ on an online post or to their phone
  • Spreading rumours of a sexual nature about someone
  • Sharing photos or images of a sexual nature

Sexual harassment can impact a victim in several ways:

  • Feeling fearful
  • Feeling vulnerable
  • Lower productivity
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Feeling embarrassed by the harassment
  • Victims avoided certain work situations as a result
  • Negative impact on their mental health
  • Negative impact on their physical health
Employer’s responsibility

Companies must commit to taking preventative action, if not, they could be legally responsible for any sexual harassment that occurs.

This action can include:

  • Training workers and managers
  • Outlining the consequences of sexual harassment
  • Believing victims when they disclose their experiences
  • Ensuring that reporting incidences is safe for the victim to help them highlight what they have experienced with no fear of repercussions

An employer may be able to successfully defend a civil claim for harassment if they can show they took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the harassment.

Rogue employees who fail to follow employer guidance could still be criminally and civilly liable if they harass other employees.

Employers should handle any investigation into sexual harassment fairly.

Employers should also remove or reduce risks of sexual harassment to ensure their workplace is safe. They should offer support to anyone involved in a sexual harassment complaint and make it clear to all employees, or users of their services, that they will not tolerate sexual harassment.

It’s vital that employers ensure their policies are consistent in having zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

At Arc Legal, our Legal Assistance Helpline receives calls from employers seeking clarity on their rights and responsibilities to employees regarding sexual harassment.

Additionally, we have an Employee Handbook resource that can help you navigate employee rights.

For further details on our products and services, please contact your Partnerships Manager or email

Further information

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised, you can seek further support from:

  • ACAS – Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service: 0300 123 1100
  • Bawso: 0800 731 8147
  • Equality Advisory and Support Service: 0808 800 0082
  • Hourglass: 0808 808 8141
  • Latin American Women’s Aid: 020 7275 0321
  • LawWorks: 020 7092 3940
  • Mankind Initiative: 01823 334244
  • The Mix: 0808 808 4994
  • National Live Fear Free Helpline: 0808 80 10 800
  • NHS Direct Helpline: 111
  • Refuge: 0808 2000 247
  • Rights of Women Equality Advisory and Support Service: 020 7490 0152
  • Samaritans: 116123
  • The Survivors Trust: 0808 801 0818
  • Women Connect First: 029 2034 3154
  • Victim Support: 0808 1689 11



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