Sexual harassment – part 1

Here at Michael Lewin Solicitors we look into a lot of claims for workplace bullying and sexual harassment, and often we find that businesses and employees do not fully understand what sexual harassment is.

So what exactly is sexual harassment?

According to the Equality Act 2010 it is when a person engages in any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. It is also harassment if a person receives less favourable treatment if they rejected or did not submit to the sexual conduct.

The Act is explicit that any unwanted attention of a sexual nature is sexual harassment.

The United Nations website provides a helpful list of examples of what could be construed as sexual harassment:

• Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault

• Unwanted pressure for sexual favours

• Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching

• Unwanted sexual looks or gestures

• Unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature

• Unwanted pressure for dates

• Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions

• Referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey

• Whistling at someone

• Cat calls

• Sexual comments

• Turning work discussions to sexual topics

• Sexual innuendos or stories

• Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history

• Personal questions about social or sexual life

• Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy, or looks

• Kissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips

• Telling lies or spreading rumours about a person’s personal sex life

• Neck massage

• Touching an employee’s clothing, hair, or body

• Giving personal gifts

• Hanging around a person

• Hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking

• Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person

• Standing close or brushing up against a person

• Looking a person up and down (elevator eyes)

• Staring at someone

• Sexually suggestive signals

• Facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses, or licking lips

• Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements.

Unfortunately this is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Some people reading this list may seem surprised that what they interpret as trivial acts could be classed as sexual harassment, but those who have been subjected to it know full well how degrading and uncomfortable it can make your working environment.

Sexual harassment is not acceptable, funny or excusable in any situation. It is wrong and unlawful.

There is more information here on harassment, discrimination and bullying.

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