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Sexual harassment: new law in force in UK

New laws came into force on Saturday that extend the protection of sex discrimination rules to cover sexual harassment – workplace behaviour that is often difficult to prove and until now has been largely undefined in the UK.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said the change will force employers to take their responsibilities towards providing a harassment-free working environment more seriously.

"There's no place in the modern workplace for office gropers and lechers and bosses need to do more to stop those responsible for bad behaviour from making working life unbearable for thousands of women,” he said.

The definition of harassment

The Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2005 amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to provide that a person subjects a woman to harassment, including sexual harassment, if:

“(a) on the ground of her sex, he engages in unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect –

(i) of violating her dignity, or

(ii) of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her,

(b) he engages in any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect—

(i) of violating her dignity, or

(ii) of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her, or

(c) on the ground of her rejection of or submission to unwanted conduct of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b), he treats her less favourably than he would treat her had she not rejected, or submitted to, the conduct.”


According to the TUC, the new Regulations mean that if, for example, a colleague persists in making remarks about what nice legs a female employee has, or her boss promises her promotion if she goes away with him for the weekend, she should be able to claim that this is sexual harassment.

But such conduct has amounted to sexual harassment for a long time, according to Ben Doherty, an employment law specialist with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "These Regulations simply codify what our courts have already established as sexual harassment under existing legislation," he said. "This is not a dramatic change to employment law in the UK."

The Regulations also mean that for the first time women who are sexually harassed at work do not need to show that a man would have been treated differently. In the past, a defence from some employers was that there was no case to hear as the men in the office were being subjected to the same behaviour.

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