Sexual harassment at work is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Claimants can be both men and women, job applicants, apprentices and employees.
Although the Equality Act has been a reliable piece of employment law for over a decade, sexual harassment in the workplace is still a significant issue. More than half of women in the UK have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace, according to a YouGov survey in 2020.
The problem isn’t just about crude jokes or ‘banter’, the treatment of predominately women at work is shocking. One in ten women have suffered a sexual assault at work and 1% of the respondents to the survey had experienced rape or attempted rape at work.
High profile cases have served to shine a light on some of the most horrific acts of harassment and misogyny, which have often been institutional and deep rooted within the culture of organisations.
It is the responsibility of everybody to make the workplace but also society a safer and more inclusive environment. If you see it, stop it, if you hear it, report it.
There are three types of sexual harassment claims that can be made.
Examples of this could include, blocking promotion or training, derogatory comments or unwarranted criticisms made as a result of refusing an advance from the person who is harassing you. This could include comments or actions made by another if they are a close acquaintance of the harasser.
The key thing here is that the conduct should occur in the workplace, or that it has an affect on the working environment. This could also include social events, such as work Christmas parties, or social media.
The conduct does not have to be physical, for example a colleague viewing or sharing pornography in the workplace or acting in an overtly sexual or leering manner could constitute sexual harassment.
Whether the conduct was intended to be harassment or not is irrelevant. The act or behaviour is judged based upon the impact it has on the recipient. An employment tribunal would consider whether it was ‘reasonable’ for the recipient to be offended however.
It is helpful if those at the receiving end of sexual harassment are consistent with calling out the behaviour in the workplace, if you were happy to go along with it to a point, it could be argued the treatment was not “unwanted”.
However, this isn’t as straight forward as it may seem. Your status within the organisation may play a part in whether you realistically had a choice to object or not, through fear of reprisals.
If you cannot object at the time, try and do so as soon as possible. If you don’t feel you can object at all you should take legal advice.
To put this simply, this isn’t an excuse. However, if you go along with the banter, you may struggle to subsequently claim and you become part of the problem.
There are jokes that are funny and there are comments that are unlawful, be safe and stay clear of jokes of a sexual nature.
If an employer can prove they did everything reasonably in their control to prevent harassment, they may be able to avoid being liable for the actions of its employees. However, you would still be able to pursue a claim against the harasser. If in doubt; take further advice.
If you have been subjected to treatment you think is possibly sexual harassment, get in touch for further advice. You do not have to suffer in silence and treatment like this is entirely unacceptable.