The Equality Act defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
It is not a defence to claim that the unwanted conduct was meant as a joke or that the conduct was considered it acceptable: if it made the other feel intimidated or offended, then it could constitute harassment.
WHY EMPLOYERS SHOULD CONTINUE READING
Employers have a responsibility to create a safe work environment for their employees. Victims of workplace sexual harassment can bring a claim against their employer in the employment tribunal. , and an employer does not have to approve of, or even be aware of, the inappropriate conduct in order to have vicarious liability.
Employers may have a defence if they can show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment occurring. Awards for harassment are uncapped and so the financial impact can be significant.
There are a number of measures that an employer can take to prevent workplace harassment.
Clear guidance – In other words, implementing a robust anti-bullying and harassment policy. Every organisation is unique and so is the organisation’s culture. Giving examples of what constitutes harassment could prove useful for employees.
Policies should be made easily available to all employees (e.g. in a well-known shared folder). A good policy can help workers feel confident that harassment will not be tolerated and reports will be treated seriously and sensitively.
Reporting procedures – as well as internal grievance reporting procedures, employers may wish to follow Uber’s lead and introduce a confidential hotline to allow workers to report any kind of bullying and harassment in the workplace to an independent body.
This will give employees confidence in knowing they can speak with someone outside of the situation who can offer objective advice.
Training – issuing written guidance is one thing. Guaranteeing that it will be read is another. Employers should seek to provide relevant and targeted training to staff.
Face to face, group webinars and/or online training courses are some ideas of ensuring that the message is populated.