Harassment in the workplace

Employers must ensure that their employees do not become the target of sexual or gender-based harassment in the workplace. The responsibility for eliminating the harassment is transferred to the employer at the point when they receive information about the harassment that the employee has experienced.  The employer is guilty of discrimination as defined in the Equality Act if they neglect to take the steps available to eliminate the harassment.

If the perpetrator is the employer themselves (for example the CEO, a member of the board or another person with a similar position) then the victim does not have to inform another representative of the employer separately about the discrimination for it to be considered prohibited discrimination.

It is, however, primarily the responsibility of the victim of the harassment to make the perpetrator aware that their actions are not desired, unless there are special reasons to the contrary. If the harassment includes, for example, threats of weakening the victim's position if they do not submit to the harassing behaviour, then no importance should be placed on whether or not the victim having expressed that the behaviour is undesired. In situations where the perpetrator should have exercised judgement and should have known that their behaviour was disturbing and unwanted, the victim cannot be considered to have a responsibility to express to the perpetrator how they feel about the perpetrator's behaviour.

A victim of harassment can inform e.g. their manager, occupational health and safety manager, occupational health and safety representative, another employee representative or the occupational health care provider. If needed, they can also receive guidance and help from their Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate, their trade union or the Ombudsman for Equality.

When a suspicion of harassment arises, the employer has to undertake the necessary measures to eliminate the harassment. Only the employer has sufficiently effective authority and means to take action. These actions include:

  • notifying the perpetrator of the situation
  • warning the perpetrator
  • reorganising work duties or workspaces 
  • dismissing the perpetrator or terminating their contract.

It is important that workplaces have procedures in place to deal with harassment. These procedures and the means of preventing harassment can be arranged during equality planning, for example. It is also good to find out whether there is sexual or gender-based harassment in the workplace when assessing the equality situation in the workplace. More information on equality planning in the workplace is available here: Promoting equality in the workplace.