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Sexual harassment: guidance for employers

Posted on June 11th 2018

Many people believe that sexual assault isn’t as rife in the workplace as it used to be, yet the recent #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements have generated an ever-brightening spotlight on the issue.

James Franco, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey are just a few of many who have recently been accused of sexually assaulting their cast and crew members, not forgetting Harvey Weinstein, the infamous film producer who seems to have been a catalyst for these allegations.

In autumn 2017, a BBC survey revealed that half of British women, and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work, or in a place of study. Clearly, sexual harassment in the workplace is not a thing of the past.

In light of growing reports, this article provides guidance to employers about stopping workplace sexual harassment, and minimising liability.

What is sexual harassment?

Under section 26 of the Equality Act 2010, sexual harassment involves unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or the effect of violating one’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the recipient.

It involves any unwelcome behaviour. The behaviour can be verbal, written or physical and includes sexual jokes, sexual assault, sexual comments and more.

In order to avoid liability arising from ‘overly sensitive’ employees, for the behaviour to be considered sexual harassment, it must have created an environment for the recipient which makes them feel humiliated, degraded or offended.

Whilst this may not be the purpose of the harasser, their behaviour having this effect is enough to amount to sexual harassment.

Why should employers be concerned?

You should always take allegations of sexual harassment seriously. Employers should be particularly concerned when this happens at work, as they may be liable for their employees’ acts. To avoid liability, employers should demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent harassment.

Unfortunately, often the first sign of sexual harassment in the workplace comes when the recipient raises a grievance with their harasser. At this point it may be too late for the employer to avoid liability. If this is the case then there is the prospect of becoming involved in an employment tribunal claim. This can lead to the claimant receiving a large amount of compensation.

Occasionally, employers can  be liable for any sexual harassment committed by third parties. Third parties may include contractors and customers.

What can employers do?

All employers should take reasonable steps to stop any potential harassment. To do this, employers should:

  1. Ensure employees are aware of the policies surrounding what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour at work. These policies should outline certain provisions of the Equality Act 2010, relevant to equal opportunities and harassment.
  2. Ensure all of your employees have been given adequate training about equal opportunities and harassment. This is particularly important for managers and supervisors. Using this training, they may be able to spot the early signs of sexual harassment before it materialises.
  3. If your business has any current sexual harassment issues, you should address and resolve these as soon as possible.
  4. With regards to third parties, ensure they are aware of what your employees will deem as acceptable behaviour towards them.

How can we help?

Our specialist employment lawyers can help you establish policies and procedures to help you to address and deal with any workplace issues. Contact us today on 01244 312306, or fill in our contact form here.

 

By Laura Hill

Call and speak to a lawyer on 01244 312306