Allegations of sexual misconduct in the media have sharpened the focus on sexual harassment. It’s a wake-up call for all businesses to make sure they have clear policies to inspire the right workplace culture. Karron Foot, Solicitor, Commercial and Dispute Resolution, discusses how this should be done.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms, but typically includes unwelcome advances, whether by touching, inappropriate comments, standing too close, asking for sexual favours, or displaying offensive materials.
Employees are protected in the workplace by the Equality Act 2010. This makes it unlawful for an employer to allow any job applicant or employee to be subject to any harassment related to sex, or of a sexual nature.
Proof can be a problem
Any Employment Tribunal complaint must be brought within three months and the individual must be prepared to prove the conduct was ‘unwanted’. This can make it difficult, as there are frequently circumstances in which those being harassed may feel a passive position is the safest way to handle the situation. As a result, the other party may argue it was mutual. Similarly, different people may have different ideas about what is acceptable. While one might think it’s okay to make racy jokes or flirt, another may find this offensive or humiliating.
It’s sound practice for every business to have a written policy, setting out how workplace harassment is unlawful, and making sure all staff understand it will not be tolerated and may be treated as a disciplinary offence. Examples of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour may help staff know what the boundaries are – particularly if they’re relying on what historically may have seemed acceptable – alongside guidance on how best to respond and deal with it.
Most importantly, there must be a clear process outlining what steps the organisation will take if anyone feels they have been subject to any form of harassment, as well as provide a safe environment for reporting and handling complaints.
Making it count through zero tolerance
However large or small the company, top of the agenda should be a focus on having the best possible attitude towards workplace equality and diversity. Management should lead the way in demonstrating that everyone, from the top down, has zero tolerance of inappropriate behaviour. Staff should be confident they can report concerns, knowing they will be heard in a supportive, positive way.
Having a robust, strictly enforced policy will also reduce the risk that these types of claims are brought against a business – avoiding the time and expense of tribunal proceedings.
This article is included in the Spring/Summer edition of 'Business First', Berry & Lamberts Solicitor’s bi-monthly magazine, in conjunction with LawNet, for business owners and professionals. To order your pdf or hard copy email email@example.com
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.