With just six months to go until the new Worker Protection Act comes into effect, all UK employers need to act quickly to comply with the new law aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace. 

This amendment to the Equality Act 2010 broadens the definition of unacceptable behaviour and mandates significant changes to how organisations handle such issues.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment includes any behaviour of a sexual nature that infringes on an individual’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment. This includes:

  1. Unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favours.
  2. Unwanted physical contact.
  3. Suggestive comments or gestures.
  4. Displaying sexually explicit materials in the workplace.
  5. Any other behaviour of a sexual nature that an individual finds offensive.

The TUC found that almost three in five women (58%) have experienced harassment at work. For college and university students this figure is higher. According to a survey by the NUS, 68% of students experience verbal or physical sexual harassment.

And, according to the Fawcett Society, 79% of women don’t report harassment at work.

So, why don’t people report it?

Ruth Sparkes, co-founder of SaferSpace, a mobile app that allows confidential reporting of workplace misconduct said:

The top reasons for this are: victims aren’t sure what they’ve experienced is harassment. They don’t think they will be believed; they don’t know how to report harassment – processes are unwieldy. Or they are afraid they might lose their jobs.

Ruth Sparkes, co-founder of SaferSpace

Examples of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment takes many forms. While this is not an exhaustive list, examples include:

  • physical conduct of a sexual nature, unwelcome physical contact or intimidation;
  • persistent suggestions to meet up socially after a person has made it clear they do not welcome such suggestions;
  • showing or sending offensive or pornographic material by any means (e.g., by text, video clip, email, or by posting on the internet or social media);
  • unwelcome sexual advances, propositions, suggestive remarks, or gender-related insults;
  • offensive comments about appearance or dress, innuendo, or lewd comments;
  • leering, whistling, or making sexually suggestive gestures; and
  • gossip and speculation about someone’s sexual orientation or transgender status, including spreading malicious rumours.

 5 essential actions employers must take to comply

To ensure compliance with the new Worker Protection Act, employers need to undertake the following critical steps:

  1. Revise existing policies: Update internal policies to reflect the definitions and standards of behaviour outlined in the new law. This includes clear examples of what constitutes harassment and the consequences of such actions – you can download a free anti-sexual harassment policy template here:
  2. Training: Conduct regular training sessions for all employees, including management, to inform them about the Act and their roles in maintaining a sexual harassment-free workplace. These sessions should also inform employees on how to report harassment.
  3. Establish robust reporting mechanism: Create confidential and accessible channels for employees to report sexual harassment. This should include multiple points of contact, ensuring that employees have options outside of their direct management line to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
  4. Enforce a zero-tolerance policy: Publicise and enforce a zero-tolerance stance on sexual harassment, making it clear that any misconduct will lead to disciplinary action, which may include dismissal.
  5. Protect against retaliation: Ensure that employees who report sexual harassment are protected against retaliation. This can be achieved by monitoring the treatment of employees who have lodged complaints and taking immediate action if retaliation is suspected.
Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.