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The law defines sexual harassment as ‘any unwanted sexual behaviour that makes someone feel upset, offended, intimidated, or humiliated’. It is seen as any act or behaviour towards another without consent. It can have a serious impact on an individual’s emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. It is still classed as sexual harassment if the other person does not feel any of those things because of someone’s behaviour towards them.
Sexual harassment can involve a range of behaviours such as sexual comments or jokes or noises, sexual innuendos, inappropriate promises of rewards in exchange for sexual favours, unwanted physical contact without their consent, staring, suggestive looks and displaying offensive and rude material. Sexual harassment can happen in person, online via social media or emails or messaging tools.
Workplace Sexual Harassment
An individual can experience sexual harassment with someone that they work with. It might be a single incident or an ongoing pattern of behaviour. This can be from a colleague, manager, or other persons in a position of authority or even a client or a public citizen. Where an employee has been subject to sexual harassment this can lead to a strained and stress environment for the individual to work especially if the individual who is transgressing these behaviours works closely with you. These behaviours could prevent an employee from wanting to go into work as they may feel anxious and unsafe.
The employer has a duty of care to ensure this does not happen and that all employees are protected from any behaviours of this nature. Employers would be expected to have policies and procedures in place to guide them in how to handle unacceptable behaviour such as this. If it is the case that an employee experiences sexual behaviour then it should be reported to their manager, HR, or Trade Union. Keep a record of any evidence such a written conduct in the form of emails, screenshots, social media messages and through messaging tools would help to support the claim.
Equality Act 2010
Under the Equality Act 2010, sexual harassment is classed as a form of unlawful discrimination. The Act legally protects individuals from sexual harassment in particular places such as at school, colleges, universities, on transport and at work.
What action to take if you are a victim of Sexual Harassment?
If anyone is subject to sexual harassment, they will be able to escalate this to a complaint with the relevant organisations/employer and can take action in the civil courts.
Sexual harassment can be reported to the Police for investigation. The Police will with due diligence follow the correct protocols to gather evidence and obtain relevant witness statements to consider merits of the case and potential penalties. Whether you report the matter to the Police is entirely up to the individual.
Organisations such as ‘Victim Support’ can give support and guidance on the options available to an individual should they feel they have been a victim of sexual harassment.
Victim Support can be contacted on 0808 168 9111. You can also find your local support service or di a live chat on: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/
If an individual wishes to gain further insight as to the steps an employer must take to handle a complaint of sexual harassment an organisation called ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) can give advice and guidance on their helpline number which is 0300 123 1100. They are open Monday to Friday 8 am to 6 pm.
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