Law & Policy
last updated 10 February 2009


Laws and policies that specifically address the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace have been developed by national governments around the world and European regional institutions.

The Council of Europe and the European Union have taken significant steps through treaties, directives and resolutions to ensure that their member states take action to prevent sexual harassment and to enable and encourage victims of sexual harassment to seek redress for such conduct. Many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and members of former Soviet Union countries are or will soon be required to comply with Council of Europe and European Union laws and policies.

On the national level, significant advancements have been made through the drafting and passage of sex discrimination laws deemed to prohibit sexually harassing conduct in the workplace and explicit prohibitions of sexual harassment adopted under labor law or criminal law. These laws vary considerably, as do the penalties they impose on the harasser and/or the employer of the victim. Despite their diversity, these laws can serve as useful models for new legislative and policy reform efforts. In addition, the successes and failures of these laws and protocols in national jurisdictions can be an invaluable resource in the effort to evaluate the appropriateness of adopting a particular policy or law and to anticipate any unintended negative effects the law or policy may have on victims of sexual harassment.

International conventions have not specifically addressed sexual harassment but many fundamental human rights and international law principles have been applied to prohibit sexually harassing conduct, e.g., the right not to be subject to sex discrimination, the right to dignity in the workplace and the right to a healthy and safe work environment. UN conference and committees have treated sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination prohibited under U.N. conventions, as a violation of human dignity, and a violation of health and safety rights guaranteed to workers under International Labor Organization treaties. The U.N. Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women has reported on the prevalence and experience of, and legal regimes governing, sexual harassment around the world. The U.N. Special Rapporteur has recognized sexual harassment in the workplace as one of the principal forms of violence against women around the world.

For the 2008 United Nations expert group report entitled "Good practices in legislation on violence against women", including information on defining sexual harassment (Section 4.C.ii), click here.  For the Russian version of the report recommendations, click here.