Sexual harassment and pregnancy and maternity discrimination

Acas has published new guidance for employers and employees that outlines what kind of workplace behaviours could be considered sexual harassment and how to report and handle it. The guidance covers:

  • what is sexual harassment?
  • how does sexual harassment happen?
  • sexual assault and physical threats
  • who can it happen to?
  • historical allegations
  • making a complaint of sexual harassment
  • handling a complaint of sexual harassment
  • getting support

Acas highlights a number of behaviours that could be interpreted as sexual harassment, including the display of pornographic or explicit images, verbal or written sexual comments or innuendos (such as remarks about a colleague's appearance, questions about their sex life or offensive jokes), unwanted physical contact and touching and sending or forwarding on e-mails that contain content of a sexual nature. In addition, the report encourages employers to have sexual harassment policies in place to be clear to workers about what sorts of behaviours are unacceptable and would be considered sexual harassment and to ensure any incidents are quickly resolved. Finally, Acas confirms that any complaint of sexual harassment that includes sexual assault or physical threats is a criminal act and should be reported to the police and an employer can still investigate the complaint and follow its own disciplinary procedure whilst criminal proceedings are ongoing.


Acas has also published guidance for employers on how to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work and on creating a supportive workplace for women during pregnancy and maternity leave. Acas recommends several measures, including: 

  • developing a policy so that all employees understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to pregnancy and maternity discrimination
  • providing assurances that employees will not be dismissed or made redundant for any issue related to pregnancy, maternity leave or maternity pay
  • ensuring that employees on maternity leave are made aware of opportunities for promotion and training
  • making reasonable adjustments to protect the health and safety of a pregnant employee and their unborn child
  • providing a suitable place for pregnant employees to rest
  • not including pregnancy-related absences on an employee’s absence record.

Acas received more than 14,000 calls in 2016 about pregnancy and maternity issues, an increase of almost 10% on the previous year.

Source: ACAS | 30-11-2017


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