Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as any ‘unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person’s job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.’ 


But what exactly does that mean? It could mean anything from a verbal conduct, such as remarks, comment, even jokes, which make you uncomfortable. It could be physical, such as being in your personal space, brushing, stroking or leaning in. It could be directed at you, or a range of individuals in the department. It could come from a co-worker or supervisor.  Sexual harassment has legal grounds when the conduct is unwelcome, based on sex and creates an abusive or offensive working environment.


Generally, the victim or victims are unsure of what to do in this types of situations. They feel insecure, like maybe it’s just the work environment, or nothing can be done about it. The truth is is, is that if you are feeling this way, you are probably not the first and unless you do something, you are not going to be the last either.


From the very first moment that you feel uncomfortable you should confront the offender. Make your feelings known. It is generally suggested that talking to the person who is being inappropriate first is ideal. Sometimes people are not aware that their behaviour, remarks or jokes are making people uncomfortable. If they persist, then write down occasions, dates and times that you felt uncomfortable so that you have a list of examples. The next step is to then chat to Human Resources (HR), or your manager and set up a neutral meeting with the offender to discuss it. If the issue still persists and simple awareness is not enough, you have a right to go a more formal route. HR will have policies and procedures that can be taken. Make sure you document your complaints to show that you took every action the company recommended and have discussions with them about the way forward.


Most companies have a sexual harassment policy that you should have access to. Make sure you follow the guidelines for reporting and enlist the correct people to support you during this process. It is your employer’s duty to create a safe workplace for you, at all times.


Remember that sexual harassment is also against the law. Some types of sexual harassment may also be offences under criminal law and should be reported to the police. This includes indecent exposure, sexual assault, threatening communications and stalking. If you feel that the company isn’t doing everything to protect you in such cases, then you get a third party involved. Get consultation from a lawyer and know your rights. If you are unable to talk to a lawyer, then consult a trade union.


The main thing to remember is that none of this is your fault. You shouldn’t have to worry about job security or backlash from making a report. You were the victim and have the law on your side. Take a deep breath, take your notes and observations, have courage and make the first move. You should not be in a situation where you feel scared, uncomfortable, insecure or violated within a work environment.