In 2020, CIPD undertook a study on sexual harassment in the workplace. The data showed that it is still a very present issue in UK workplaces. Four percent of employees said that they had been sexually harassed in the workplace in the last three years. Employees aged 18 - 34 were at least twice as likely to report this than those aged 35 - 64. Interestingly, 24% of employees felt that their organisations did not deal with complaints of bullying and harassment fully.

Workplace harassment is illegal under the Equality Act 2010, where it is defined as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’ . This includes sexual harassment.

Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace, and they are liable for harassment that is suffered by their employees. Many workplaces have anti-bullying and harassment policies in place as one method of prevention.

The BBC recently published an article detailing the story of an employee who has won a £90,000 payout for sexual harassment that she had suffered in her workplace. The woman was slapped on the bottom with a ruler by a male manager during a staff meeting. When she reported this to her workplace, at each step of the grievance process it was dealt with inappropriately. Her employers alleged that she had ‘dressed and behaved provocatively’. She was also talked about in the office. Consequently she resigned as she did not feel she could work there any longer. The woman said the incident had brought her embarrassment and humiliation. Throughout the tribunal process, she had chosen to remain anonymous.

This case is an example of the importance of the response by employers to disclosure of sexual harassment including the subsequent investigations of the issues raised. Repeatedly we are aware of organisations which do not respond appropriately which is a costly mistake for all involved.