Sexual harassment in the workplace

Published: 30 January 2020

Last updated: 30 January 2020

What countries does this apply to?

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales

Guidance on sexual harassment and harassment in the workplace

All employers have a duty of care to protect their workers and will be legally liable for sexual harassment in the workplace if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it. Our guidance offers a legal explanation and practical examples of how to tackle and respond effectively to harassment.

Read the guidance: Sexual harassment and harassment in the workplace

Read our seven step employer guide: Preventing sexual harassment at work

Watch our short video which highlights how to prevent harassment in four steps:

Sexual harassment occurs when an individual engages in unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. It has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating someone’s dignity
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual concerned 

‘Of a sexual nature’ can cover verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct including unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate touching, forms of sexual assault, sexual jokes, displaying pornographic photographs or drawings, or sending emails with material of a sexual nature. For more information on harassment and what this means, read our guidance on sex discrimination

Experiencing sexual harassment is one of the most difficult situations a person can face in the workplace. No workplace is immune to sexual harassment and a lack of reported cases does not necessarily mean that they have not occurred. Recent high-profile testimonies and sharing of experiences on social media have highlighted sexual harassment in a range of workplaces, and the real barriers that many experience in reporting it.   

Employers are responsible for ensuring that employees do not face harassment in their workplace. They have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to protect their employees and will be legally liable if they fail to do so.

Our work so far

In January 2020, we wrote to large employers across Great Britain to ask them to take preventative steps to safeguard their employees from harassment, following the practical advice outlined in our guidance.  This follows feedback from around 1,000 individuals and employers between December 2017 and February 2018 published in our Turning the Tables report.

In April 2022, we worked with UK Hospitality to create a checklist and action plan for employers, to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. This guidance was designed for the hospitality sector but is a useful tool for all employers.

Support for employers

The Acas website contains information about handling complaints of sexual harassment and includes an advice line if you need further information.

You can also download our guide for employers on preventing sexual harassment at work and our guidance on the use of confidentiality agreements in discrimination cases.

Support for individuals

Call 999 for the police if you or someone else is in immediate danger or if a crime is in progress. Call 101 to contact the police if the crime is not an emergency. For information on crime and policing in England and Wales, and to find your neighbourhood team, visit the website. For Scotland, visit the Police Scotland website.

There are a number of organisations who offer support to people who may have experienced harassment, including:

  • Victim Support - an independent charity that provides free confidential and tailored support to victims of crime, regardless of whether the crime has been reported or how long ago it happened 
  • Rape Crisis England and Wales is an organisation that promotes the needs and rights of women and girls who have experienced sexual violence, to improve services to them and to work towards the elimination of sexual violence
  • Samaritans is a charity who can provide emotional support for workers who are struggling to cope and need somebody to listen to them
  • Equality Advisory and Support Service can provide advice if you feel you have been treated unfairly at work
  • Rights of Women are an equity organisation and work to address the inequalities which women face in society
  • The Scottish Women’s Rights Centre is a project that provides free legal information, advice and representation to women affected by violence and abuse 
  • LawWorks is a charity working in England and Wales to connect volunteer lawyers with people in need of legal advice, who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford to pay. It enables people to search for free advice in their local area


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