Sexual harassment and gender-based harassment

Pensive woman sitting with a mobile phone in her hand.

Sexual harassment and gender-based harassment are considered discrimination under the Equality Act. Sexual harassment is defined as verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is unwanted and by which a person’s psychological or physical integrity is violated intentionally or factually, in particular by creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive atmosphere.

Gender-based harassment means unwanted conduct that is not of a sexual nature but which is related to the gender of a person, their gender identity or gender expression, and by which the person’s psychological or physical integrity is intentionally or factually violated and an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive atmosphere is created.

Sexual harassment can be expressed in the following ways:

  • sexually suggestive gestures or expressions
  • indecent talk, puns and comments or questions referring to body parts, clothing or private life
  • pornographic material, sexually suggestive letters, emails, text messages or phone calls
  • physical contact
  • suggestions of or demands for sexual intercourse or other kinds of sexual activity
  • rape or attempted rape

Gender-based harassment can be expressed in the following ways:

  • degrading talk concerning another person's gender
  • belittling the opposite gender
  • workplace or school bullying, when this is based on the victim's gender.

Getting the harassment to stop

The most important thing in a harassment situation is to get the harassment to stop. If the victim thinks that the employer, educational institution, interest group or supplier of goods or services has neglected their duty to take the available measures to eliminate the sexual or gender-based harassment after they have been notified of it, they can, in accordance with the Equality Act, take the case to a district court and claim compensation. Such legal action must be instituted within two years of the violation of the prohibition of discrimination.

The perpetrator may have to bear responsibility for their actions under the Criminal Code and the Tort Liability Act. Discrimination in working life may also meet the criteria of criminal discrimination at work or violate the Occupational Safety and Health Act. If the sexual harassment also includes the intentional violation of a person's physical integrity, then the regulations in the Criminal Code regarding assault and sexual offences may also be applied. Physical sexual harassment has been criminalised under the Criminal Code (chapter 20, section 5 a in the Criminal Code).

Occupational safety and health (Regional State Administrative Agencies)

Examples of harassment

Jaana, salesperson

A so-called porn calendar had been posted on the wall of the break room. Jaana has spoken about the matter to her male supervisor, but he has just laughed, saying that a woman who is as imposing as Jaana should not be bothered by the women on the calendar. According to the supervisor Jaana is in no way worse looking than the women in the pictures.

Jaana has asked her supervisor to remove the so-called porn calendar from the work break, but he has laughed and said that Jaana is in no way worse looking than the women in the pictures
Kalle has repeatedly refused suggestive suggestions and asked his supervisor to stick to work issues

Kalle, copywriter

Kalle's female supervisor has sent him photographs of herself in her underwear on WhatsApp and has invited Kalle to her home. Kalle has repeatedly declined and asked the supervisor to stick to work issues. As a subordinate, Kalle finds the situation disturbing.

Sara, office secretary

Sara works at a predominantly male workplace where obscene jokes are part of everyday life. The banter had not bothered her before one of the employees started greeting Sara by hugging her. In addition, the employee often commented on Sara's appearance by making comments such as “At least you are formally competent”, “That skirt sure looks good on you”, and “How can your husband let you work here all day long with all of these men?” Sara no longer feels comfortable at her workplace.

One of the colleagues hugs Sara and comments on her appearance suggestively, and it feels uncomfortable for her

Do you suspect discrimination?

If you suspect that you have been discriminated against, instructions and guidance are available from the Ombudsman for Equality.

In cases of discrimination at work:

  • If you are a member of a trade union, you should get in touch with the shop steward and find out your rights.
  • Guidance from the Ombudsman for Equality is free. Trade union membership fees include the right to legal advice.
  • You can also contact a legal aid council, a lawyer's office or a lawyer. You will usually be charged for legal services. Check if you have the kind of legal expenses insurance that will also cover your legal expenses.

If you have a low income, you may be entitled to the services of a public legal aid attorney for free or reduced price.