Sexual harassment in the workplace

Women are being asked to share their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace and public places as part of a government initiative.

This is part of the Women and Equalities committee’s investigation following widespread allegations in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Serious allegations of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein and other actors have dominated the media.  This has highlighted the need for employers to make sure that they deal effectively with sexual harassment in the workplace.

What conduct amounts to sexual harassment in the workplace?

Under the Equality Act Sexual harassment occurs where both : –

  • A person engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.
  • The conduct has the purpose or effect of either violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.

It is a form of bullying as well, if it is carried out in the course of employment and is based on a person’s sex. It is not necessary for the harassment to be physical and employees can be harassed by the same sex or the opposite sex.

The term covers a variety of behaviour from verbal comments such as inappropriate jokes, banter, sexual advances, threats to a person’s continued employment to physical sexual assault.

It can be a one off incident or a pattern of continual behavior and employers need to be mindful what effect this having on its employees and make sure they take the appropriate action.

What should an employer do?

 The objective must be to create a safe working environment for an organisation’s employees and workers where there is a clear expectation that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.

The tips for employers are as follows:-

  • a clear written policy proving that the company takes a serious approach to harassment of any kind.
  • a training program where managers are trained in the principles of the policy and this needs to be an ongoing training commitment by the company.
  • formal grievance procedures which enable complaints to be taken seriously and investigated properly.  These complaints need to be treated with sensitivity and fairly.
  • complaints should be handled with a high level of confidentiality and avoid putting unnecessary stress on the person making the complaint. For example, making sure there is somewhere private to discuss the complaint and adopting sympathetic listening strategies.
  • some types of sexual harassment, such as sexual assault and other physical threats, are a criminal matter as well as an employment matter so may need to be reported to the police.
  • a willingness to take action against the people who are displaying conduct which amounts to harassment, including dismissal where justified and the sanction should not vary dependent on their seniority.
  • a strong commitment from the leaders of the organisation that harassment will not be tolerated.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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Jane Crosby

Partner, Dispute Resolution

Jane is an employment and commercial litigation solicitor of more than 15 years' experience. Prior to entering the legal profession, Jane was employed in the...

Partner, Dispute Resolution

Jane Crosby

Jane is an employment and commercial litigation solicitor of more than 15 years' experience.

Prior to entering the legal profession, Jane was employed in the aviation industry. This experience is appreciated by many of Jane's clients who note that she is able to take a commercial and pragmatic approach to any legal issue that they face.

Jane acts for a wide range of individuals and businesses and her areas of specialism include aviation, property related industries and IT. Jane regularly advises on aspects of employment law, such as settlement agreements, employment contracts, policies and procedures, redundancies, equal pay, data protection, issues arising from TUPE and reorganisations, the calculation of holiday pay, bonus and commission payments, disciplinary and grievance issues, dismissal and termination issues, the protection of confidential information and the enforcement of restrictive covenants. Jane gets involved in GDPR training for her clients and she is able to deliver tailored employment law training sessions upon request.

As a commercial litigation lawyer, Jane also deals in shareholder and directors disputes, commercial contract disputes and the enforcement of restrictive covenants.

Jane has been involved in successful high value commercial litigation for clients in the High Courts, she is an accredited mediator and she is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association.

Jane is often asked to write for a number of well known publications, including The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Week and she has been interviewed on BBC Radio 4.

Here is small selection of the feedback that Jane has received:

“Jane, I cannot sincerely thank you enough for your wise counsel and am delighted to have made your acquaintance. If I am blessed with a new position somewhere I will hand over my contract in the first instance to you. Likewise, any of my friends, peers, romans and countrymen wanting advice, I will point them in your direction.”

“Jane, you have been most resilient on my behalf for which I sincerely thank you for all your endeavours. I have a tremendous working relationship with Hart Brown and you have undoubtedly compounded this further."

“I appreciated the clarity of advice given at a stressful time”.

“A sensitive and highly professional approach and efficient work in the interests of the client”.

“Your advice, conduct and assistance have been indeed outstanding and very professional but also – and most importantly – very humane”.

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Hart Brown Solicitors is the trading name of Hart Brown LLP registered in England and Wales No. OC 425835 whose registered office is Resolution House, Riverview, Walnut Tree Close, Guildford, GU1 4UX and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) No. 658593. Members: N Maud, T Pearce, D Knapp, R Campbell and P Grimwood, Partners: J Crosby, L Harrhy, J Jupp, J Lamont, T Mandelli, V McMurtrie, E Moore, S Osborne, S Powell, G Sanders and E Wiggins.

Any reference to a partner in relation to Hart Brown LLP means a member or an employee with the title of Partner of Hart Brown LLP.

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