A topic which has been dominating the headlines recently is ‘Sexual Harassment in the workplace.’ Currently, high profile claims are being reported in the media on an almost weekly basis. The resulting growth in awareness and spike in action surrounding this issue has led to an increased number of people taking action where they are facing unwanted conduct in the workplace.
The prevalence of the issue is even clearer when considering the recent survey conducted by Prospect Union. Shockingly, it was found:
“More than a third of women have experienced sexual harassment at work and the figure increases to 62% of women under 30, a sign that it remains a major issue in workplaces across Britain.”
In light of these alarming statistics, it is essential to know the legal framework surrounding these issues.
Sexual Harassment at work is specifically prohibited by the Equality Act 2010 and claims can be made in an employment tribunal by employees, job applicants and apprentices.
What conduct amounts to unlawful sexual harassment in the workplace?
The conduct must be made in the course of employment, although this can extend to social work events outside usual working hours, E.G A team building day.
If you felt happy for the conduct to continue, then it will not usually amount to conduct that is ‘unwanted.’ Except if you were in a Junior position and felt compelled to join in with ‘banter’ or conduct because you felt vulnerable.
This conduct does not have to be physical – ‘leering’ in a manner that is overtly sexual would also find inclusion.
The motive of the harasser is irrelevant – the important issue is the impact on the person receiving the behaviour. In making a decision, the tribunal will have to consider the ‘reasonableness’. In other words, whether a reasonable person would have been offended by the conduct or whether the employee was just oversensitive.
What about the so called ‘banter excuse’?
As shown by the report ‘Just a Bit of Banter?’ Tribunals are increasingly rejecting the notion ‘it was just banter’ as a justification for sexual remarks. That said, if you are a willing party to the ‘banter’ it would be difficult to raise a claim. Although the line isn’t always easy to identify, if you make it clear to the person making the comments they have gone too far, this will help in any claim.
What steps can I take if I am a victim of Sexual Harassment at work?
- Tell the person to stop – if possible.
- Keep diary entries of what is going on, including specifics date, time, location.
- Inform your Manager or, if required, someone higher up. If this isn’t appropriate, contact HR.
- Raise a ‘formal grievance’. Your employer will be under a duty to investigate matters raised.
- Importantly, get early legal advice about your options.
Sexual Harassment in the workplace is no doubt still a major problem, however, growing action by victims ensures that awareness is raised and appropriate action is taken.
We offer a free 20-minute appointment to provide advice and next steps if you are dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.
By Laura Boles