Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, legislation has been a firm part of equalities law in the UK for several decades. However, CIPD research in 2020 shows that 4% of employees said they had been sexually harassed at work over the past three years, with younger employees more likely to report this experience: 8% of employees aged 18–34, compared with 4% aged 35–44 and 3% aged 45-64. Women are significantly more likely than men to report they have experienced both bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace (17% versus 13% and 7% versus 2%, respectively). Further, almost a quarter (24%) of employees think that challenging issues like bullying and harassment are swept under the carpet in their organisation. 

These findings show that regulation alone – although very important in setting standards and providing a route for individuals to bring a claim for harassment –- is not enough to stamp out discriminatory attitudes and behaviour towards women in the workplace. 

In the UK the Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as: “Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.”’

CIPD viewpoint

How should organisations respond?

Prevention is better than cure

Further resources

More on this topic

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Bullying and harassment: UK employment law

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Harassment and bullying at work

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See our Bullying and Harassment hub

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