Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. Sexual harassment can be physical, verbal or written. It can include:
- comments about a person’s private life or the way they look
- sexually suggestive behaviour, such as leering or staring
- brushing up against someone, touching, fondling or hugging
- sexually suggestive comments or jokes
- displaying offensive screen savers, photos, calendars or objects
- repeated requests to go out
- requests for sex
- sexually explicit emails, text messages or posts on social networking sites.
Sexual harassment is against the law and some types of sexual harassment can also be a criminal offence. These include indecent exposure, stalking and sexual assault, as well as obscene or threatening phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and posts on social networking sites.
A single incident is enough to constitute sexual harassment – it doesn’t have to be repeated.
Examples of sexual harassment
Martin works for a youth service and his role has access to staff personal information. Martin finds the contact details for Kathy, another staff member, and calls her to ask her out. Kathy refuses but Martin continues to text and email her suggesting she go out with him.
Louise is a union member and workplace representative for her union. At a union meeting another member tells a smutty joke using Louise’s name.
Justine is a dental hygienist and a member of a professional association. On a professional development course run by the association one of its employees slaps her backside as they pass in the corridor.
Katie is a volunteer worker with a home care agency. One day when she is visiting John, a client, he starts stroking her arm and telling her how pretty she is. Katie asks him to stop but he pulls her onto his lap and tries to kiss her.
Where can sexual harassment occur?
Sexual harassment is against the law when it occurs in an area of public life covered by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. However, there are some differences to the law about where it covers discrimination and sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is against the law in:
- employment, which covers a range of situations including where people are working in a partnership, or anywhere people share a common workplace. Find out more about sexual harassment in employment.
- goods and services
- an industrial organisation, such as a union
- local government
- a qualifying body, such as a professional association.
Volunteers and unpaid workers also have the same rights and responsibilities in relation to sexual harassment as paid staff.
Make a complaint to the Commission
If you think you have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.
To make a complaint:
- contact us by phone, in person or email. We also have a free interpreter service
- submit your complaint online or download our complaint form (DOC, 230KB)
- chat to us online
Find out more about making a complaint.