What is sexual harassment by a third party?


Sexual harassment in the workplace can happen to anyone, in any job and can come in many forms.  You might have experienced

unwelcome sexual jokes, comments or questions

inappropriate remarks about your appearance or body

unwanted touching or groping

 being shown pornographic material

unwanted advances

flashing or sexually suggestive actions

sexual assault and abuse

The Equality Act 2010 defines sexual harassment as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature” with the intention or effect of violating someone’s dignity or “creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.

Even if the customer/client perpetrator might not intend to humiliate or create hostility, if their actions or words have the effect of making the employee feel unsafe, offended or intimidated, then that falls under the definition.  Some forms of sexual harassment are also a criminal offence.


4/5 women did not report the sexual harassment to their employer.

What is a 'third party'?

 A third party could be a customer, client or service user; anyone who the employee comes into contact or communication with because of their job or role.   

Harassment of this kind can be isolating, frightening and it can be difficult for the employee to know what to do.  Support from employers might be unavailable or inadequate, in some cases the behaviour might even be encouraged.

For example, the harasser could be a

customer in a bar, pub or restaurant

a client of an agency or office

a shopper, a visitor or service-user

someone receiving care or support at home

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere; over the phone, in emails or face-to-face.  It can happen in the employees place of work, or in the third party’s home or on their property.   

Please note the above explanations are intended to help with a general understanding of sexual harassment and third parties - they should not be read as legal advice for your specific circumstances or situation.

Who is most affected?

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, irrelevant of their gender identity, but current research shows women are far more likely to experience sexual harassment.  

Research collated by the Women and Equalities Committee report in July 2018 suggests certain groups are disproportionately affected or at risk; for example, young women aged 18 -24, employees with a long term illness or disability, or members of a sexual minority group.  Sexual harassment can intersect with other forms of harassment and discrimination, such as racial, transphobic, homophobic, religion and belief, immigration status or disability discrimination.

Those engaged as freelancers, gig workers or on zero-hours contracts are also more likely to be affected.  Workers in the retail, catering, hospitality, care, healthcare and transport sectors are particularly affected by harassment from a third party.

 We want to hear from anybody who would like to share what has happened to them.