Don’t struggle in silence: Take action against sexual harassment at work
All workers are protected from sexual harassment at work. This includes one-off incidents as well as ongoing incidents. Sexual harassment can happen to men, as well as women, and can be perpetrated by colleagues of the same or the opposite sex.
Laws against sexual harassment have been in place since 1975, but several extra protections have been added over the years.
In recent years, CIPD undertook a study on sexual harassment in the workplace. The data showed that it is still a very present issue in the UK workplaces. Four percent of Employees said that they had been sexually harassed in the workplace in the last three years. Employees aged 18-34 were at least twice as likely to report this than those aged 35-64. Increasingly, 24% of Employees felt that their organisations did not deal with complaints of bullying and harassment fully.
What does the law say about sexual harassment?
Workplace harassment is illegal under the Equality Act 2010, it is behaviour that is offensive, frightening or in any way distressing. It can be intentional bullying which is obvious or violent, or it can also be unintentional, subtle, and insidious. It may also involve nicknames, teasing, jokes, name calling or other behaviour, which is not with malicious intent, but which is upsetting.
All Employers have a duty of care to protect their workers from unlawful discrimination in whatever form it may take place. Employers can therefore be liable for acts of harassment committed by one worker against another work.
If an Employer can show that it took all reasonable steps to stop its employees from partaking in such conduct, then it may escape liability. Such reasonable steps may include having a well drafted anti-harassment policy and ensuring all workers are aware of the policy, providing workers with suitable harassment training and adopting a top-down zero tolerance approach to workplace harassment and making this clear to workers.
The Equality Act provides that if an Employee establishes clear facts which could enable the Employment Tribunal to infer or conclude that sexual harassment has occurred, it is then for the Employer to provide evidence to justify the treatment. In the absence of an adequate explanation from the Employer, the Employment Tribunal must draw an inference of harassment.
It is no defence to say that offensive behaviour was simply “a joke” even if the harasser did not mean to cause offence, they are still liable. Employers should therefore always remain wary of tolerating potentially discriminatory comments overlooked as workplace “banter”.
There was an article published by the BBC detailing a story of an Employee who won a £90,000 payout for sexual harassment against her Employer. The female worker was slapped on the bottom with a ruler by a male manager during a staff meeting. When the Employee reported this to her workplace, at each step of the grievance process it was dealt with inappropriately. Her employers alleged that she had ‘dressed and behaved provocatively’. She was talked about in the office which led to her resigning as she did not feel she could work there any longer. The female worker who chose to remain anonymous throughout the tribunal process said that the incident had brought her embarrassment and humiliation. An article published by the Guardian on ‘The sexual abuse of female surgeons comes as no surprise to me. I quit rather than endure the misogyny’ – Dr Becky Cox who is the co-founder of surviving in Scrubs.
Research in the British Journal of Surgery recently published this year that 63.3% of female surgeons had been sexually harassed while 89.5% reported witnessing such behaviour. The survey of more than 1,700 surgeons in the UK, commissioned by the Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery (WPSMS) also found that 29.9% of female surgeons had been sexually assaulted.
What should you do if you have been sexually harassed?
We recommend keeping a journal of the relevant incidents to assist in any later proceedings. In addition, consider:
If you are experiencing harassment of any nature or less than favourable treatment within your workplace, we at Kalra Legal Group are here to assist you.
By Lakhvinder Digpal
Employment Solicitor at Kalra Legal Group
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January 2024 Newsletter
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