The recent spate of allegations of sexual misconduct stemming from Hollywood and US Congress raise the important issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Since these allegations have come to the light the BBC has reported that it is investigating some 25 complaints made this year – a spike compared to normal levels. We can safely assume that the Weinstein effect and the well-publicised #MeToo hashtag on Twitter are encouraging victims to come forward.
What is sexual harassment in the workplace?
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits harassment on the grounds of sex (amongst a number of other protected characteristics). The definition of harassment is “unwanted conduct” which has the purpose or effect of violating one’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. In terms of sexual harassment this is further defined as being “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature” which has the aforementioned effect. Although the Equality Act protects employees from sexual harassment there may still be reluctance from them to come forward with complaints of this nature.
Given the current climate we suggest that you as an employer remind your teams about what conduct and behaviours are acceptable in your workplace. An employer can be held liable for the actions of their employees so sexual harassment in the workplace is not an issue to be shied away from. Being clear about where the line between office banter and inappropriate comments and inappropriate physical contact is drawn will also help promote an inclusive and harassment free workplace.
If you are concerned about sexual harassment in the workplace, need specific advice on dealing with any complaints you may have received or need help implementing the policies and safeguards to avoid inappropriate conduct then please contact a member of our employment law team for advice.
The Backhouse Solicitors Team
Tel: 01245 893400