Sexual harassment

If you've been sexually harassed at work

If you've experienced sexual harassment at work, you can make a complaint to your employer.

Your employer should:

  • take your complaint very seriously
  • handle it fairly and sensitively

Make a note of what's happened

It's a good idea to make a note of what's happened. This should include dates, times and names, including any witnesses. Making a note can be especially helpful if you find talking about the experience particularly distressing.

If you're thinking about recording what's happened

You should be aware of the risks of recording, or secretly recording, what's happened – for example on your phone. This is a complicated area of the law.

A recording might not be allowed as evidence if, for example:

  • your employer has a policy that staff must not make recordings at work without permission
  • your employer has a policy that making a secret recording at work is a disciplinary issue
  • your secret recording breaks data protection laws

If your complaint leads to an employment tribunal, they might allow a recording as evidence in some circumstances, depending on your reasons for making it. A possible example might be that you made it to protect your legal rights. But the tribunal would decide on a case-by-case basis.

Getting advice on your options

You might want to talk to someone to get advice and support before deciding whether to make a sexual harassment complaint. This could be:

  • someone you trust at work, for example a colleague or manager
  • a trade union representative, if you're a trade union member
  • someone at work who's been trained to advise people who are considering making this kind of complaint
  • a specialist helpline

Making a complaint

Talk with your employer or someone senior at work as soon as possible to try and resolve the problem.

If this does not resolve the issue, or does not seem appropriate in the circumstances, you can raise a formal grievance.

Alternatively, your employer may have their own specific sexual harassment policy and procedure, or a bullying and harassment policy, for handling sexual harassment complaints. If so, you should follow that policy and procedure to make your complaint.

Look at your workplace's policy, if there is one, to check what you should do. The policy should be somewhere you can easily access, for example on an intranet or in a staff handbook. It should say how your employer handles sexual harassment complaints.

The policy should tell you who to send your complaint to, for example someone at your workplace with specialist training. If you're a trade union member, you might also want to tell your local trade union representative – they may be able to support you in making a complaint.

If you make a complaint a long time after an incident took place, your employer should still take it seriously.

If there's a hearing

If your complaint leads to a hearing, your employer must allow you to be accompanied at the hearing, if you make a reasonable request. This would usually be someone you work with or a trade union representative.

They might let you bring a friend or family member instead. Your employer does not have to agree to this, unless it's written in your employment contract or your workplace's policy.

In a few cases an employer must let you bring a second person if you need to, for example if you're a vulnerable person who needs specialist support because of a mental health condition.

If your employer handles sexual harassment complaints through their own specific sexual harassment policy, your right to be accompanied at the hearing must be at least the same as in a grievance procedure. Your right to appeal against a decision must also be at least the same as in a grievance procedure.

When it's a crime

If you've been sexually assaulted or raped at work, there are specialist helplines you can call for support and advice. They can help talk through your options.

If you choose to tell your employer, they should talk to you about whether you want to report it to the police, and should support you if you choose to report it. Before doing this, your employer should get advice from a specialist helpline.

Your employer should not put any pressure on you to make any particular decision. If you do not want to tell the police, you do not have to.

In most cases, your employer should go along with your decision. But your employer might decide they have to tell the police in some circumstances. This might include if you or they think there's likely to be:

  • an ongoing risk to your safety or the safety of others
  • an increased risk to your safety because you're a vulnerable person, for example you have a mental health condition

If your employer is going to report it to the police, they should talk with you about it before telling them, and let you know when they've told them.

If it's been reported to the police or it's going through a court

Your employer is unlikely to have to wait for the criminal process to finish before they can:

But before doing either of these things, they should check with the police and consider getting legal advice. This is to make sure there is no risk of them prejudicing the criminal process.

If the problem is not resolved

You can consider making a claim to an employment tribunal.

If you want to do this, first you must tell Acas you intend to make a claim to an employment tribunal. You need to do this within 3 months of the incident.

When you contact Acas, you will have the chance to try to resolve your case through Acas before formally submitting a claim to an employment tribunal.

If you take more than 3 months to tell Acas, your complaint may still be considered at an employment tribunal if the tribunal decides that both these things apply:

  • there's a good reason for you taking more than 3 months
  • it's fair to the employer to allow your case to go ahead

It's a good idea to get legal advice if either:

  • your complaint involves sexual assault or rape
  • you feel your employer is not dealing with your complaint because the person you've complained about is powerful or influential
  • it's more than 3 months since the incident and you're considering making a claim to an employment tribunal

It's against the law for you to be:

  • victimised because you've made a sexual harassment complaint
  • treated less favourably at work because you've been sexually harassed or you've rejected someone trying to sexually harass you
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