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Sexual harassment in the workplace

With the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal hitting the headlines, sexual harassment in the work place is under the spotlight and a good thing to.

Experiencing sexual harassment is one of the most difficult situations a worker can face during their career. No workplace is immune to sexual harassment and a lack of reported cases does not necessarily mean that they have not occurred. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of discrimination that includes any uninvited comments, conduct or behaviour. But when is the line crossed from a reassuring hug or sexual innuendo to an offence? What is clear, is that what one employee may be comfortable with could in fact make another feel violated.

So, what constitutes sexual harassment and what can you do to resolve the situation?

The law is relatively clear. Individuals have been protected in the UK since the introduction in 1975 of the Sex Discrimination Act – legislation that was incorporated in the Equality Act 2010. Legally, sexual harassment can no longer be excused as a ‘bit of fun’ if it can be interpreted as potentially intimidating, hostile or humiliating which could impact on a person’s performance in the workplace.

Sexual harassment isn’t limited to making inappropriate advances. In fact, sexual harassment includes any unwelcome verbal or physical behaviour that creates a hostile work environment. Any actions or words with a sexual connotation that interfere with an employee’s ability to work or create an uncomfortable atmosphere are considered sexual harassment.

Harassment is often endured because people fear the consequences if they take action. If you feel like you are a victim of sexual harassment then you must make the instigator aware that this is making you feel uncomfortable. If you don’t feel confident doing it yourself, then have a colleague speak on your behalf. If the harassment continues after then inform you supervisor / manager of the situation.

So, what are the consequences of sexual harassment?

For offending employees, such cases could mean dismissal and disgrace; for employers, it could mean unlimited compensation awards and lasting reputation damage. The employer should take appropriate investigatory action and, if necessary, disciplinary action where a matter comes to their attention. Otherwise it could find itself facing a series of claims.

An employer is legally responsible for the behaviour of its workers and most employers consider sexual harassment as a disciplinary offence. It is not surprising, therefore, that most sexual harassment cases are not brought against the perpetrators, but against employers.

With this in mind, if you require support with disciplinaries or with conducting investigations into allegations made, then get in touch with us today. The lesson to be learnt from this is that sexual harassment cannot be ignored in the workplace, despite the position of power the perpetrator holds. Protect your business and staff by ensuring such actions do not take place within your organisation.