Know your rights
- You have a right to be safe at work and to work free from sexist comments, sexual harassment and abuse.
Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you. It is either unwanted conduct towards you on grounds of sex, or it is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.
Sexual harassment of a sexual nature would include a coarse sexual remark by a colleague or student, display of offensive sexual material or sexist graffiti, offensive sexual gestures, persistent unwanted physical attention, touching or sexual assault.
It is also sexual harassment to treat a woman or man less favourably because she or he has accepted or rejected sexual advances.
TUC research¹ on sexual harassment at work found that more than half of all women polled had experienced some form of sexual harassment. In most cases, the perpetrator was a male colleague, with nearly one in five reporting that their direct manager or someone else with direct authority over them was the perpetrator.
- Note your employer’s duties
All teachers and educational professionals have specific protection at work from sexual harassment under the Equality Act 2010. You are protected whether you are permanent, fixed-term, full-time, part-time, supply or agency.
Your colleagues, managers and governors are prohibited from harassing you. If you’re an agency worker, your agency and the hirers for whom you are working are prohibited from harassing you. Your employer must take steps to prevent and deal with unlawful harassment at work by a third party who is not your employer or a colleague, such as a student or parent.
- Keep a diary
If you are being sexually harassed, gather all the written evidence that you have, such as letters, emails, texts and relevant screenshots. Keep a diary of all incidents of unwanted conduct including dates, times, places, the names of any witnesses and your response to the conduct or behaviour.
- Protect your health
Keep a record of how harassment is impacting on your health, e.g. your symptoms and any absences from work. You are advised to see your GP and to let your employer know in writing if the treatment at work is affecting your health. The union can help you write this letter. If you think the stress of harassment at work has led to depression, an anxiety disorder or psychosis, you may be suffering from a recognised psychiatric illness. If so, you should seek immediate advice from the union.
You have a right to be safe at work and to work free from sexist comments, sexual harassment and abuse.
- Be proactive
Act promptly. Informal steps may resolve the matter quickly. On the other hand, formal proceedings may be necessary.
Offensive student behaviour should be reported under the student behaviour or discipline procedure or in writing to your head teacher or principal. Your school should, wherever it is possible, be recording any incidents against you as sexist or sexual harassment incidents, not generic bullying.
Sexual harassment by a colleague should be dealt with under your workplace procedures.
- Talk to your NEU rep
Discuss your concerns with your workplace rep. Your colleagues may have made similar complaints and you may be advised to tackle the issue with them collectively.
You or your rep might decide to seek further advice on what steps you should take. You may choose to deal with the matter informally, you could send our model letter to the individual asking for the behaviour to stop. You may be advised to lodge a collective grievance with your colleagues. Harassment is usually the symptom of a wider culture of dissatisfaction in a school or college and it is likely that working together will prove to be more effective in empowering colleagues, raising morale and avoiding further harassment.
This may resolve the issue. In rare cases you may be advised to take the matter to an employment tribunal.
The objective in all cases will be to stop the unwanted behaviour and allow you to continue working in a professional environment free from harassment.
- Follow up with your employer
Your employer or agency should investigate your report, stop any unwanted conduct and take appropriate action to prevent it from happening again to you or someone else.
Ask your workplace rep or school or college office for copies of harassment and bullying policies. The NEU urges all employers to adopt clear harassment and bullying policies and procedures for dealing with workplace harassment fairly and quickly.
- Secure workplace policies
Employers in the education sector have a statutory duty to be proactive in eliminating discriminatory harassment and advancing equality of opportunity for staff and pupils. They must assess the impact of their policies and procedures on the people affected by them and be prepared to revise procedures where it is proportionate to do so.
Contact your workplace rep or local branch if you want to get involved in reviewing the equality impact of policies and procedures in your workplace. You can use our model harassment and bullying policy and checklist on harassment and bullying complaints. Use these model clauses as a basis for a distinct sexual harassment policy.
You can team up with NEU members to tackle sexual harassment at work collectively.
Members can work together to help prevent sexual harassment by improving workplace policies, training and awareness. You can use our guide to Tackling Sexual Harassment Together to collect evidence of sexual harassment using a Confidential Questionnaire and take steps individually or collectively to stop sexual harassment happening again.
- Get advice
If you need further advice about being sexually harassed at work, contact the NEU Adviceline without delay. Call us on 0345 811 8111, or email us at [email protected]. The general rule is that a sexual harassment claim must be presented to a tribunal within 3 months less 1 day of act or omission complained of. Check our discrimination page for more detail.