Domestic Legal Framework
last updated 13 July 2007

Laws prohibiting sexual harassment have only recently been adopted in some countries. The United States and the United Kingdom addressed sexual harassment in the late 1970s and 1980s. Other countries passed laws prohibiting sexually harassing conduct in the 1980s and early 1990s. In May 2002, the European Union Council and Parliament amended a 1976 Council Directive on the equal treatment of men and women in employment to prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace as a form of sex discrimination and violation of dignity. This Directive requires all Member States of the European Union to adopt laws on sexual harassment or amend existing laws to comply with the Directive by October 2005; as a result, national sexual harassment law in Europe is in the process of undergoing significant change. More information on the Council Directive is available in the discussion of regional sexual harassment law.

Legal approaches to sexual harassment vary widely. While there is no international consensus on the definition of sexual harassment, two forms of sexual harassment are widely recognized: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. These forms of harassment are addressed on the national level through a variety of civil provisions—anti-discrimination law, labor law, and tort law—as well as through criminal codes. The remedies applied in the context of sexual harassment depend in large part on the legal approach taken. Because sexual harassment can occur in different forms and in different environments, the most effective way to combat it may require a combination of legal strategies.

National legal systems also have developed different legal standards by which to determine employer liability for the sexual harassment experienced by its employees in the work environment, the appropriate burden of proof to be applied in civil sexual harassment cases, and whether to require proof of injury in sexual harassment cases.

Governments and non-governmental organizations have also established various 

These mechanisms, policies and strategies are described in the Prevention discussion in this Sexual Harassment section.