In light of the continued popularity surrounding the topical #MeToo campaign, many more employees have been given the confidence to come forward and report sexual harassment in the work-place. Now, more than ever it is important for employers to adopt a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and change the workplace culture.
What is ‘Sexual harassment’?
Sexual harassment is specifically outlawed as a sub-set of discrimination protected against by the Equality Act 2010. It is in general terms split into three types:
- “Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”
- Where an individual is treated less favourably because they either rejected or submitted to sexual advances.
- Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which relates to your gender.
Even if an incident is being investigated by the police, an employer must also deal with the incident as an in-house employment matter. Employers are generally liable for the actions of their staff so long as the conduct occurred during the normal course of employment. However, if an employer can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment then the liability will transfer to the individual harasser on a personal basis. In order to avoid vicarious liability, an employer would have to show that they have a relevant equal opportunities policy, that all employees are aware of and have access to said policy and that they know what to do should they believe they have been harassed.
Employers are under a duty of care to protect their employees from sexual harassment and to ensure that their employees do not experience sexual harassment in the work-place. Moreover, employers are under a duty to train staff as to equal opportunities and as to what will be deemed as unacceptable behaviour.
Employers are generally liable for the actions of their staff so long as the conduct occurred during the normal course of employment. However, if an employer can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment then the liability will transfer to the individual harasser on a personal basis.
What counts as ‘in the workplace?’
Usually, the conduct in question will have to occur in the normal course of employment at work however this can also extend to work events outside of the office i.e. after work drinks or Christmas party.
What should you do if you believe you are being sexually harassed?
- It is important to diarise the comments/actions of your harasser as and when they come. This will always prove useful when reporting the matter to an employer or as evidence in an Employment Tribunal.
- Access your employer’s anti-harassment/equal opportunities policy
- Contact our employment solicitors to discuss your options