Sexual Harassment at Work

Posted on 18th October 2017

Sexual Harassment at Work

As more and more people are making allegations of sexual assault and harassment in their profession, it’s turned a spotlight on the issue in general.

It’s important to realise that it could potentially happen in any workplace, to any employee and more importantly, men can find themselves on the receiving end as well as women.

Sexual Harassment At Work

One misconception can be that there needs to be some form of physical contact for sexual harassment to have occurred, but as our case studies show, this is not true. It’s also worth noting that incidents can sometimes happen outside the workplace, for example, unwanted phone calls.

Whilst there are many people who have happy romantic relationships with work colleagues, there are others that don’t work out. There are also situations where a person subjects another to unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.  When employees experience sexual harassment, they may be covered by the Equality Act 2010 depending on the situation.

All employees should feel safe at work and not feel resigned to taking no action for fear of what would happen if they did.  If an incident isn’t reported, the employer may not be aware of what is taking place, and the individual concerned may never be challenged.  This could lead to the same person continuing to carry out similar incidents of unwanted behaviour.

Case studies

  • At work conferences where there were overnight stays, Daniel the MD would make sexual suggestions to female members of staff.  Female staff would discuss what happened with each other afterwards and Daniel would apologise, laugh it off saying it was down to having had a few drinks and that the comments made were not intended to be offensive.

  • Paul was invited to dinner by his team leader, Claire.  Paul politely refused.  Claire continued to ask Paul to dinner and started to call him more and more and also out of working hours, with work calls ending with questions as to why Paul would not agree to go out with Claire.  Paul did not feel able to approach anyone at work about the situation. Paul applied for promotion to join another team to avoid his team leader. Although considered the most suitable for the position, he was unsuccessful because of comments made by Claire who had been on the interview panel.

Getting guidance and support

Both cases above demonstrate unacceptable behaviour regardless of the position of the person carrying out the offensive behaviour.  In the second case, Paul may be considered to have been subjected to less favourable treatment.

In both cases above, the employees should raise a grievance setting out what took place and the date of each incident.   If the grievance does not result in a suitable response, that also includes preventative measures that have been put in place to ensure similar incidents do not occur, then the employee may consider resigning and claiming constructive dismissal.  We recommend that legal advice be sought before resigning and claiming constructive dismissal to ensure the correct steps are taken and for the right reasons.

Employers have a duty of care to their staff and should steps to ensure the health, safety and well-being of their employees are being met.  This in turn, also makes good business sense.  Building up trust with employees improves retention of staff, increases productivity and improves morale within the business.

If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, speak to your employer or if you would like some legal advice, feel free to contact us by email at [email protected] or give us a call on 0114 209 4208.  Initial chats are always free.

This article is for general information and is not intended as specific advice.