Sexual harassment

Witnessing sexual harassment

If you see someone being sexually harassed at work, you could step in and try to stop it happening, if you feel it's safe to do so.

After it's happened, you can:

  • support a complaint made by the person who experienced the sexual harassment
  • report what you've seen
  • make a sexual harassment complaint yourself because what you've seen has harmed your working environment or violated your dignity – you do not need the permission of the person who’s been sexually harassed to do this
  • give evidence as a witness, for example at a hearing

You must not be victimised if you make or support a complaint, or act as a witness. This means you must not be:

  • stopped from giving evidence
  • treated unfairly because you've made a complaint, given evidence or supported a complaint

Ways you could support someone else's complaint include things like:

  • making a statement, which may or may not mean you appear as a witness at a hearing
  • giving evidence that the person accused of sexual harassment had also sexually harassed you in another incident
  • comforting or supporting someone who's experienced sexual harassment

Make a note of what's happened

It's a good idea to make a note of what's happened. This should include dates, time and names, including any other 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 a complaint leads to an employment tribunal, the tribunal might allow a recording as evidence in some circumstances, depending on your reasons for making it. A possible example might be that you're struggling at work and you're trying to make sure your evidence is not misrepresented by someone who's far more influential than you. But the tribunal would decide on a case-by-case basis.

Deciding whether to report it or make a complaint

You should talk to the person who's experienced sexual harassment to see if they want your support.

You might also want to talk to someone else to get advice and support before deciding whether to report it or make a sexual harassment complaint yourself. This could be:

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

Depending on what the person who's been sexually harassed has said to you, and any other advice, you might decide to either:

  • report what you've seen
  • make a complaint yourself because what you've seen has harmed your working environment or violated your dignity – you do not need the permission of the person who's been sexually harassed to do this

Reporting what you've seen or making a complaint

If you choose to tell your employer, talk with them as soon as possible to try and resolve the problem.

If talking to your employer does not resolve the issue, you can raise a formal grievance. This is if you're making a complaint yourself because what you've seen has harmed your working environment or violated your dignity.

Alternatively, your employer may have a 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 reports and complaints of sexual harassment.

The policy should tell you who to send your report or 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 your problem is not resolved, you can consider making a claim to an employment tribunal.

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

Being a witness at a hearing

You might be asked to give evidence at a hearing. This could be either as part of:

  • your workplace's grievance procedure
  • your employer's specific sexual harassment or bullying and harassment procedure, if they have one

If you're uncomfortable about doing this, the person investigating should talk to you and try to resolve any concerns you have.

If you made a complaint yourself

If you made a complaint yourself because what you've seen has harmed your working environment or violated your dignity, your employer must allow you to be accompanied by someone at the hearing, if you make a reasonable request. This must 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 you're a witness to someone else's complaint

If you're giving evidence as a witness to someone else's complaint, you do not have the right to be accompanied at the hearing.

Find out more about being a witness.

Making a witness statement anonymously

If you're making a witness statement, you can ask for it to be anonymous. But there can be disadvantages in doing this.

For example, your evidence might not be taken as seriously and it may have to be backed up by someone else who's willing to be named.

Keeping your identity secret cannot be guaranteed. For example, if the case goes to an employment tribunal, you might be asked to give evidence in person.

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