Working closely alongside each other day in day out, means people often develop strong feelings for co-workers, but this can cause problems when the feelings aren't mutual. If your office admirer won't take no for an answer, it can make things very difficult for you, affecting your well-being as well as your work. This is sexual harassment and you do not have to put up with it.
TUC research, Still just a bit of banter?, carried out in conjunction with the Everyday Sexism Project in 2016, has demonstrated alarming levels of sexual harassment in UK workplaces, with unacceptable behaviour ranging from sexually suggestive jokes to inappropriate touching or demands for sexual favours.
A good place to start is to speak to your union for support, or if you don’t belong to a union, to a close colleague you can confide in.
Occasionally, it is possible to deal with this sort of problem informally as a first step, by trying to explain to your colleague how the behaviour makes you feel. He or she may not have realised how upset you are. You could do this in writing if you don’t feel able to do it face to face. You could rehearse the conversation with a union rep or your colleague, and take someone with you if it makes you feel more secure.
If you have tried an informal approach, or if you don’t want to do this, you should raise the issue with your line manager. Again your union rep can help if you have one. Your employer must take any suggestion of sexual harassment very seriously.
If your line manager is the person making the advances, you could approach another manager, or HR. Your employer should have a clear policy of zero tolerance of sexual harassment, with a procedure that it should follow. Ask for a copy.
It is a good idea to start keeping a diary at this stage (which you should keep at home), recording incidents that have upset you, what the colleague did, how you responded, the steps you took to try to get the problem to stop (e.g. emailing your manager or HR), and what happened.
You should also keep copies of any evidence – for example, copies of texts or emails, gifts or screenshots of unwelcome social media postings.
Ask your manager to follow the company policy for tackling harassment. If the problem cannot be resolved, you will need to consider putting in a formal grievance If your harasser continues with the unwanted behaviour after being told how upsetting it is, their actions should be formally investigated as a disciplinary matter, and should lead to an appropriate disciplinary sanction such as a warning, disciplinary demotion or transfer, or even dismissal. As the target of the harassment, you should not be expected to change where you work.
People may often attempt to pass off cases of sexual harassment as 'a bit of fun' – especially at times like Valentine's Day or at office parties – but they're no fun for the person being harassed, and you shouldn't be expected to just laugh it off. Behaviour of this sort is unacceptable, as well as unprofessional, particularly if you have made it clear you don't like it.
Even if your harasser thinks their behaviour is not offensive, they will be guilty of harassment if they persist with the behaviour once it has been made clear to them that you want it to stop.
If you do need to bring employment tribunal proceedings, note that deadlines in the tribunal are very short indeed, and tribunals very rarely agree to extend these deadlines. If you miss the deadline, your case is unlikely to be heard by the tribunal, no matter how persuasive it is.
For general information on bringing a tribunal claim, including information about Acas early conciliation, see our section on Enforcing your Rights.