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11 Oct 2017

Commercial litigation

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Recent research commissioned by the TUC reports that following a survey of 1,500 women, over 50% of women surveyed complained that they had been subject to sexual harassment.

More disturbingly, the report suggests that nearly 80% of women who complained of sexual harassment did not tell their employer due to fears that their complaint would not be taken seriously or that reporting could adversely affect relationships at work or career prospects, this can be an incredibly lonely and isolating time for the victims of sexual harassment.

Employers would be wise to assume that simply because they have not received complaints about sexual harassment, that there is no sexual harassment within their workplace. In February 2016, an Employment Tribunal awarded £830,000 to a NHS HR Director who was constructively dismissed and harassed after she rejected sexual advances from the Trust’s Chairman.

While not all claims to an Employment Tribunal will result in such a large award, any claim has the potential to result in costly compensation and damage to an organisation’s reputation.

Employers have an obligation to prevent sexual harassment from taking place at work.  Employers can be held responsible for the acts of harassment by individual employees if they do not take all reasonable steps to stop it.

Employers should consider:-

  • creating and communicating a clear anti-harassment policy;
  • conducting sexual harassment training and re-training for all employees, especially supervisors and managers, on a regular basis;
  • ensuring managers and supervisors understand the responsibility to ensure zero tolerance for harassment in the workplace;
  • make sure that employees know their options and how to raise complaints, either informally or formally, if they find themselves the subject of workplace harassment;
  • ensure that all employees are aware that sexual harassment amounts to gross misconduct and may result in dismissal and have clear processes for investigating any complaint of harassment;
  • ultimately, employers must ensure that they have cultures where sexual harassment is not welcomed or tolerated and that all complaints are treated seriously.

If you are a victim of sexual harassment at work or you need advice as an employer on how you can create an open environment for your employees, get in touch with our employment team today.

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