A male, more senior colleague in my department has been sexually harassing me

July 13, 2007

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'A male, more senior colleague in my department has been sexually harassing me. Although I have rejected his advances in no uncertain terms he persists, though too subtly for my other colleagues to be aware. He is a powerful person in my faculty and I am wary of jeopardising my career by making a formal complaint. What should I do?'

* A spokesman for the University and College Union says: "You have a legal right under the Sex Discrimination Act not to be sexually harassed while at work, so you should definitely not have to put up with this sort of behaviour.

"If you feel that you are in a situation where you are at risk of physical assault or your personal safety is under threat then you should take immediate action, following your institution's procedures.

"If the nature of the harassment is less threatening you should keep notes and/or a diary of particular incidents.

"You have already rejected his advances to no avail, and you may therefore wish to now put in writing that his behaviour is causing you distress and unhappiness.

"I suggest also that you approach your local trade union representative and, if you feel able to do so, your line manager, both of whom should be able to provide you with support and advice.

"Harassment often happens behind closed doors and when others are not around or aware, so you may also want to consider discussing your situation with friends/colleagues at work.

"By talking to others you may discover that you are not alone and it might help you to find the necessary support to take appropriate action.

"Your colleague's conduct constitutes unlawful harassment - by taking the above steps, it is to be hoped that this behaviour can be stopped. If not, then I would certainly advise you to make a formal complaint. Again, remember your trade union will be able to support you.

"The Equality Challenge Unit - conjunction with the UCU and Unison - has produced a good practice guide for higher education institutions on dealing with bullying and harassment in the workplace, which I think you would find useful.

"It includes a model leaflet for staff and has practical suggestions as well as information about relevant legislation."

The guidance can be downloaded from the UCU's website: http:///www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/0/4/digatwork_1.pdf and is also available from the Equality Challenge Unit.

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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