Consensus HR

Your outsourced HR department.

Sexual Harassment at Work

Published in Employment Law

The current news seems to be ablaze with Sexual harassment at work, with the BBC, Houses of Parliament and Harvey Weinstein- US Film Producer apologising about the way he had “behaved with colleagues in the past” but how can business owners & managers ensure this is not happening in their workplace?

What kind of behaviour constitutes sexual harassment at work?

In simple terms, sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour by anyone in the workplace of a sexual nature against you.

This harassment can be verbal or non-verbal and may make you feel intimidated or uncomfortable and an individual does not have needed to object to a person’s behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.

Examples include:

  • Sexual comments or jokes – in person or via email
  • Inappropriate touching, such as pinching, patting or hugging
  • Unwelcome sexual advances or other forms of sexual assault
  • Staring in a sexually suggestive manner or wolf whistling
  • Displaying images of a sexual nature – for example, a colleague may put up a topless calendar or picture, which you find offensive
  • Being treated less favourably as a result of rejecting any such conduct

The Oxford English Dictionary defines sexual harassment as “unwanted sexual advances, obscene remarks, etc.”. and the Equality Act 2010 says it’s an “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature” which violates a person’s dignity or “creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment”.

Anyone who experiences sexual harassment at work in the UK is protected by Chapter 1, Section 11 of the Equality Act 2010 and can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal (ET) immediately regardless of length of service with awards being uncapped.

Matthew from Consensus HR states “Employers need to ensure they are on top of any behaviours that may make members of the team feel uncomfortable and take the necessary action which initially maybe a case of telling the individual to stop it immediately and if it persists taking Disciplinary action. All employees need to be fully aware of how they act at work as what they may see as acceptable a member of the team may find degrading or harassing.”

A Radio 5 live survey, of 2,031 British adults, found that 37% of all those asked – 53% of women and 20% of men – said they had experienced sexual harassment, ranging from inappropriate comments to actual sexual assaults, at work or a place of study.

More than a quarter of people surveyed had suffered harassment in the form of inappropriate jokes or “banter” and nearly one in seven had suffered inappropriate touching.

Of those who had been harassed, 5 lives’ survey suggests one in 10 women had been sexually assaulted.

More women then men were targeted by a boss or senior manager – 30% compared with 12% – and one in 10 women who had experienced harassment said it led to them leaving their job or place of study.

Matthew further comments “Companies need to ensure that the workplace is an enjoyable one for everyone regardless of any personal characteristics such as sex, race, age, disability to name a few and not be treated less favourably or involved in behaviour which can be seen as harassment, degrading or uncomfortable. It is up to everyone in the workplace to ensure this happens and that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated and will be dealt with accordingly. Business owners need to remember it is their company and their reputation and failure could result in a large uncapped award being made if they end up in an ET for failure to act.”