The World of Work by Harry Sherrard

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

“Handy Andy we used to call him! You had to keep your back to the wall if you were getting in a lift with him….! Everyone just accepted it; it was normal….”

I will keep the source of this recently heard anecdote anonymous, for obvious reasons, but we’ve all heard stories like it from (usually female) friends and colleagues about their experiences of working in offices and factories of the not-too-distant past.

But surely those days are gone? Now, virtually all employers have Anti-Harassment Policies (if you don’t, you really should!) and many have online e-learning platforms through which employees click to confirm they have read and understood those policies.

Why, then, did the outgoing Conservative Government introduce a new duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace? And what more can or should you be doing in response?

Despite the prevalence of policies and online training courses, our experience is that employees are often unaware of what constitutes “harassment” in a workplace situation. The workplace definition under the Equality Act simply refers to unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature and words or conduct which violate someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Certainly this would include the bottom pinching so enjoyed by “Handy Andy” and his ilk, but how many of your employees know it can also include jokes with sexual innuendos, explicit messages on shared WhatsApp groups, drunken romantic advances and even unsubtle hints that a colleague’s career might be improved by going for a drink with their boss?

Workplace events where drinks have been taken are often the backdrop against which harassment claims arise. After-hours comments on online chat platforms are another. Employers might – with some justification – feel they can’t be held responsible for what their employees do in these situations, but the fact is they can be. And, even in 2024, workplace sexual harassment claims arising from these scenarios are quite common.

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 comes into force in October and places new duties on employers, so training and timely reminders for your employees is highly recommended. Join us at 10am on Tuesday 23rd July for an hour long webinar in which we will consider and cover the key legal aspects of the upcoming legislation. Find out more and book your place to attend –

To ensure your workplace is free of inappropriate workplace banter, and your employees know where to draw the line you may wish to consider one of our in-house training courses covering the basics of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – with a focus on when “banter” is harassment.

If you would like further information on the topics detailed in this blog or any of our in-house training options please email or call the office on 01273 834120 to talk to a member of our team.

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