Sexual harassment

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Health Assured team

08 September 2021

When an employee raises a claim of sexual harassment, you have a legal and moral duty to investigate the issue efficiently and as quickly as possible. 

Employees can suffer from it in the workplace, on virtual platforms, and outside of work hours. But ultimately, you have a legal responsibility for preventing any harm to your staff.

Mental and physical health damage that employees suffer can lead to them falling sick, leaving, or raising legal complaints.

Meaning your business reputation, productivity, and income are all at risk. As well as facing discrimination claims, compensation pay-outs, and possibly litigation hearings.

Read what constitutes as sexual harassment in the workplace. We’ll also outline ways to prevent it and how to provide support to victims of such misbehaviour.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can be defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature.

Employees can experience it from colleagues, management, customers – in and outside of the workplace.

So, what counts as sexual harassment? There are many different forms, and can be either singular or reoccurring events. These types of harassment can include:

  • Sexual comments or jokes.
  • Sending emails with sexual content.
  • Displaying sexual drawings or pictures.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances.
  • Verbal and physical sexual assault.

Sexual harassment laws

Sexual harassment is defined in the Equality Act (2010) as:

(a) violating the complainant’s dignity; or
(b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant.

The harasser ultimately holds responsibility for their unlawful actions. But employers can be implicated if they don’t take reasonable steps to stop harassment.

Consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace

In some instances, victims won’t speak up or report an incident of sexual harassment in the workplace. They might lack confidence that their case won’t be investigated seriously. Or they could fear repercussions of reporting, like their career being affected or even being victimised.

Employees could suffer effects a range of emotional and physical issues like:

  • Poor sleep.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Decreased confidence and self-esteem.
  • Loss of sleep.
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss.
  • Headaches, exhaustion, and nausea.

For employers, the results of sexual harassment in the workplace means they could face:

  • Legal hearings and compensation claims.
  • Business productivity and brand reputation.
  • Mental and physical health effects.
  • Creating a toxic work environment.
  • A reduction in employee retention.

Employers can be held liable for harassment and discrimination whether they knew it was happening or not. Unless you’re legally proven to have taken reasonable steps to prevent harassment.

You should support and reassure the victim that their case will be thoroughly investigated. You can offer them mental health support and counselling through an employee assistance program (EAP).

How to manage sexual harassment in the workplace

Your workplace policy on harassment and other forms of discrimination should be clear and provided to staff once they join. All employees need to follow your rules; and understand the consequences for not complying.

A clear understanding and method can help you manage harassment incidents, at all stages.

Here are four main areas to consider when managing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Policy and procedures

It’s vital that you have policies and procedures outline your aims to stop misbehaviour. This will assure your employees that it will not be tolerated. They can also provide an understanding for how investigations will be carried out.

Your policy should include the following:

  • A clear definition for sexual harassment.
  • Zero-tolerance for misconduct and misbehaviour.
  • Strict investigation procedures.
  • Consequences and penalties for guilty parties.


When an employee raises a complaint about harassment, you should deal with it as soon as possible.

Whether the incident happened inside or outside the workplace, you are responsible for their safety and welfare.

The procedure for reporting claims should be easy and confidential. Let your workers know when they should report:

  • After hearing about incidents through gossip.
  • After witnessing misbehaviour.
  • On behalf of the victim.

Take all complaints seriously and never dismiss them without following through with an investigation. Listen to the victims and ensure them that their case will be resolved.


When an employee raises a complaint, you should attempt to resolve it informally first. For example, speak to the accused and state that their behaviour is unacceptable, asking them to stop.

If formal proceedings are needed, you should:

  • Inform both parties about the raised complaint.
  • Carry out a thorough investigation to gather evidence.
  • Keep written records of discussions, timelines, and agreements.
  • Make a final decision.
  • Carry out any further actions if needed.

Prevention and support

It’s likely that line managers will be the first people an employee might reach out to for support. So, you should provide managers with information, materials, and training on preventing and dealing with claims.

They should:

  • Understand the definition and seriousness of it.
  • Have training on preventing harassment and discrimination.
  • Make sure their teams understand your policy.
  • Deal with claims straight away.
  • Have good interpersonal skills to care for victims.
  • Provide support throughout investigations.

Get advice on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace

Employers have a responsibility to protect their staff members from all forms of harm – including bullying, discrimination, and all types of harassment.

By building a healthy and comfortable working space, employees will feel safe and confident whilst working for you. Which elongates employee retention as well as business productivity.

Without it though, harassment cases can equate to meeting possible tribunal hearings and financial penalties.

Health Assured offers expert advice on dealing with harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace. Our confidential whistleblowing support allows your employees to confidently raise claims and feel support throughout their case.

Our Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our wellbeing consultants. Call 0844 891 0352. for help on promoting health and wellbeing at work.

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