THSP symbol

Protection from Sexual Harassment at work


By Sian Collin

All individuals should feel safe in and outside of the workplace and should be free from harassment of any kind.

Sexual Harassment can be directed at anyone and should be taken seriously by organisations to ensure that they can encourage a positive and inclusive workplace and culture. An organisations culture which does not support gender equality and does not support an atmosphere where employees can speak up and challenge inappropriate behaviour, is in danger of serious implications and falling behind in the industry stakes.

Under the Equality Act 2010, sexual harassment is defined as ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for another person’.

All workers are protected from sexual harassment in the workplace; however, this doesn’t stop occurrences of this from happening.

Culture in the Workplace

Organisations should look to try and prevent harassment before it occurs by having a zero-tolerance approach and having the right and accurate policies in place. These should include policies on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Recruitment and Safeguarding.

Organisations should be open to a diverse workplace, which will foster acceptance and tolerance of different employees, backgrounds, gender, beliefs and skills.

Harassment and Bullying

Harassment should not be confused with Bullying; they are separate things. Bullying can only be classed as harassment if it is defined as per the Equality Act.

Harassment is defined by ACAS as ‘unwanted conduct that violates people’s dignity or creates an intimidating hostile, degrading, humiliation or offensive environment’.

Sexual Harassment at Work and Managing Complaints

Companies and employers have a duty of care to protect the safety and wellbeing of their employees and any allegations and complaints of sexual harassment should be taken very seriously.

The positive steps and action that they can look to take could include appropriate equality training for line managers and employees who may need to get a better understanding of the subject. Companies should also look to foster a supportive environment by looking at day to day behaviour of employees. This could include looking at workplace ‘banter’ and how this can be reduced, removal of calendars of women in the office, the tone of general discussions about and to women in the workplace.

Companies should manage harassment investigations thoroughly following process and procedure. If an employee believes that they have suffered or are suffering from any form of sexual harassment by colleagues (and also including third parties such as clients, customers or visitors), they should make a complaint in writing to Directors or senior management.

The allegation should state the following:

  • The name of the alleged harasser.
  • The nature of the harassment.
  • Dates and times when harassment occurred.
  • Names of witnesses, if any, to any incidents of harassment or bullying.
  • Any suggested remedy

All complaints should be thoroughly investigated. All investigations should be carried out in an independent and objective manner by someone unconnected to the allegations and should be conducted with sensitivity and respect for both the individual making the complaint and the alleged harasser and within in an acceptable timeframe.

All discussions and meetings should be treated in strictest confidence, and it should be made clear that any breaches of confidentiality may give rise to disciplinary action.

The Company would need to seek to ensure that the complainant did not suffer any detriment, whether directly or indirectly, for bringing a complaint and the situation should be monitored to ensure that the harassment has stopped.

Even where a complaint is not upheld, for example where the evidence is inconclusive, consideration should be given to effecting arrangements which will enable the parties not to continue to work together against the wishes of either party.

Any complaint that is unfounded and not made in good faith, for example a malicious complaint should be treated as a disciplinary offence.

Harassment Outside of Work Time

Companies also need to be mindful of harassment outside of office hours. Social events such as after work drinks and Christmas parties are unfortunate breading grounds for unacceptable behaviour and companies can be held liable.

They need to ensure employees have a clear understanding of their code of conduct and expected behaviours outside of the workplace and with their colleagues.

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 will come into force in October 2024. The act signals a major change for employers who will have a duty placed on them to take measures to stop the sexual harassment of their employees.

For the first time it will mean that:

  • Employees can make a complaint directly to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) without having to first complaint to their employer.
  • Employers must be able to explain and provide proof of the reasonable steps they take to prevent the sexual harassment of their employees.
  • Employment tribunals will have the power to uplift sexual harassment compensation by up to 25% where an employer is found to have breached the new duty.

At THSP, we are happy to support and provide guidance to company’s regarding this or any other HR or Employment Law issue you are facing.


Get in touch with our HR and Employment Law team