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Prevent sexual harassment

Use the Discrimination Act and the Work Environment Act to help you in your work to tackle sexual harassment. Here you will find information on what you need to do to meet the requirements of both acts.
Red tinted image of a pair of hands in the foreground and a woman in the background.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is conduct of a sexual nature that violates a person’s dignity. Besides comments and words, this could involve unwanted touching or leering. It could also be a question of unwelcome compliments, insinuations, text messages and images of a sexual nature.

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination under the Discrimination Act. Sexual harassment can also be a form of victimisation under work environment legislation.

This is your responsibility as an employer

Active measures: Under the Discrimination Act, you, as an employer, must work continuously in four steps to prevent sexual harassment and harassment.

The four steps are

  • investigate
  • analyse
  • take measures
  • monitor and evaluate.

Victimisation: Under the Work Environment Act and its regulations you must work to prevent victimisation.

Everyone in the workplace must be aware that you as an employer find sexual harassment unacceptable. This applies to those who are already employees, as well as to substitutes, interns, temporary workers and new recruits.

Such information must be available in written guidelines and can be integrated into operations in various ways. For example, you can talk about the guidelines and what they entail at workplace meetings, in private conversations or via the intranet.

You need to monitor and follow up the guidelines, including making sure that everyone has received the information. You can do this through, for example, employee surveys and performance appraisals.

Both the Discrimination Act and the Work Environment Authority’s regulations require that everyone has access to clear procedures for the prevention and handling of sexual harassment and victimisation should such situations arise in the workplace.

The procedures shall state:

  • to whom the victim is to turn to get help quickly
  • what the employer must do when they receive information that sexual harassment is happening in the workplace
  • what the employer does with this information
  • who in the workplace is responsible for investigating incidents or allegations.

Both guidelines and procedures must be available in writing. In order for guidelines and procedures to be efficient, it is important that everyone in the organisation is aware that these procedures exist, knows what they entail and understands what everyone has to do.

Act immediately, do not delay!

Your obligation to investigate and take measures applies as soon as you become aware that someone feels that they have been subjected to sexual harassment, regardless of how and from whom you have gained knowledge. How to proceed:

Investigate
  • Start by finding out what has happened – talk to the person who feels they are a victim.
  • Continue by talking to the person or persons alleged to have carried out the harassment.
  • Sometimes it is also necessary to talk to witnesses.
  • Assess whether there is a need for immediate measures during the ongoing investigation.
  • Be discrete – it is important that the investigation is conducted discretely and with consideration and respect for those involved.
Put a stop to it

If your investigation indicates that sexual harassment has taken place, you must prevent it from continuing. Here are some examples:

  • In some situations a verbal reprimand or request may be sufficient to put a stop to the harassment.
  • In other cases it may be necessary to issue a warning or reassign the employee.
  • If nothing else helps, it may be that the end result is termination or resignation.
Monitor

Once you have put measures in place to prevent the harassment from continuing, it is important to monitor the situation in the workplace in order to ensure that the harassment has stopped. Here are some examples of questions you could ask:

  • Has the harassment stopped?
  • Is the harassment still taking place? In which case, the measures you have put in place have not been sufficient and you have to take further action to put a stop to it.
  • Has the work with promotion and prevention pursuant to the Discrimination Act and work environment legislation worked? How can it be improved?

How is sexual harassment detected?

Sexual harassment often happens in secret, for obvious reasons. In other words, finding out that sexual harassment is taking place requires everyone in a management position to be attentive and vigilant and to communicate actively with their staff. Here are some common examples of how an employer can find out that sexual harassment is taking place.

  • The victim or one of their colleagues alerts you to what is going on.
  • Through work environment surveys conducted in the workplace.
  • You receive information from a trade union or a safety representative.
  • You notice something you perceive to be sexual harassment.

Punishing those who report discrimination is prohibited

Those who want to complain of or report discrimination must be able to do so without having to worry about negative consequences from their employer. That is why the Discrimination Act contains a ban on reprisals that protects those who have complained of or reported discrimination from being punished by their employer. This protection also applies when someone, for example, turns down a proposition or resigns themselves to the sexual harassment.

The Discrimination Act aims to combat discrimination and to promote equal rights and opportunities in other ways. Under this act, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination.

The Work Environment Act aims to prevent ill health and accidents at work, and to achieve a good working environment. Sexual harassment can be a form of victimisation, which is regulated under this act.

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Last updated 2020-04-03