Sexual harassment at work

Sexual harassment at work

Sexual harassment at work is one of the most common forms of harassment and is specifically outlawed by the Equality Act 2010. Claims can be made by men or women, job applicants, employees, and apprentices.

It can also be a very tricky and difficult situation to address as victims are often in a position of vulnerability, and afraid of damaging their career prospects if they take steps to protect themselves. It may be that they are also afraid of losing their jobs.

Unlike direct discrimination, harassment claims do not require any comparator – in other words it is not necessary for you to show that another person was, or would have been, treated more favourably

The 3 different types of sexual harassment claims at work

  1. Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. This would include inappropriate touching, sexual innuendos, persistent requests for dates, leering and suggestive gestures, invasion of your personal space, and sexually explicit jokes.
  1. Where you either reject sexual advances, or accept them, but you are subsequently treated less favourably by the person who has harassed you. Examples of such less favourable treatment include, intentionally blocking  your promotion or training opportunities (because the unwelcome sexual advances are turned down), and  derogatory comments or unwarranted criticisms that are made as a result of refusing to go out with the person who is harassing you (or is a friend of the harasser).
  1. Sex-related harassment, where there is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which relates to your gender, which again, has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or creating an unpleasant environment. For example, this would include hostile comments about childcare arrangements (if you are a female) and you have to constantly leave work early to care for your young children.

When does conduct amount to unlawful sexual harassment?

The conduct must be in the course of employment, although it can extend to social events outside work. If you were happy for the conduct to continue, then it will not amount to something that is “unwanted”, unless you were in a very junior position and felt compelled to join in because you felt vulnerable.

A tribunal will also need to consider the question of “reasonableness”- in other words, whether a reasonable person would have been offended by the conduct in question ( where, for example, the employee was simply being oversensitive).

Are employers liable for the actions of their staff?

An employer is usually liable for the actions of its employees in the course of employment, so if a member of staff is found to have harassed a colleague, the employer will be held responsible. If an employer can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent harassment, however, then they can escape liability (although the person who is being harassed can still bring a claim against the harasser personally).

Tactics of bringing a claim or reaching a negotiated settlement.

You do not need to leave employment to make a claim for sexual harassment, although in most cases, the relationship will have broken down making a continuing working situation impossible. As well as a claim for sexual harassment, a constructive dismissal claim may be brought, although it is often better for a negotiated settlement to be agreed. It is always wise to seek professional advice before taking any steps, especially before resigning, as this could affect the level of compensation that could otherwise be negotiated.

At Landau Law, we are very sympathetic to the situation of clients who are the victim of sexual harassment, and highly experienced in advising on your rights and appropriate strategy. Please call 020 7100 5256 or email


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