Recent news headlines have brought into focus the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. It would be easy to think this alleged behaviour only happens in places like Hollywood and Westminster where there are perceived to be many men with the power to influence the way a victim’s professional future progresses.

However, a quick survey around the office will probably tell you that there is not a woman you know who has NOT been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace in one form or another and while it is often men who are the perpetrators, they can also be victims too!

So what exactly is harassment?

The Oxford dictionary states simply “aggressive pressure and intimidation”. Under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, sexual harassment involves unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the recipient.

Conduct of a sexual nature can include unwelcome sexual advances, touching, forms of sexual assault, sexual jokes, displaying pornographic photographs or drawings or sending e-mails with material of a sexual nature.

The important thing to note is that it is how the “unwanted conduct” affected the alleged victim, rather than what the intent of the perpetrator was.

For example an employee may tell a dirty joke to one colleague and that person is fine with it. The same employee may tell the same joke to another colleague and it makes the second colleague feel very uncomfortable. This is an example of what might be perceived as sexual harassment.

Many companies tolerate what they describe as “banter” in the office, in fact I was told once during an investigation that a physical sexual assault was “just banter”! Perhaps the safest thing to do is to ban all banter, but this is an unrealistic aspiration. What has to be created is an environment where people feel able to raise an issue if they personally are not comfortable with it, without the fear that they will be ignored, vilified or victimised.


Need some help? People Business will be happy to offer assistance in the above, please contact us on 01932 874944.