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What is Sexual Harassment in the Modern Workplace?

The run up to the US Presidential elections these past 18 months, has thrown up some interesting issues, however, what has caught my eye are the sexual harassment allegations against Mr Donald Trump. While, I make no judgements as to whether or not there is any merit in any of the allegations, I thought it would be worthy of highlighting what would constitute sexual harassment in an era where the workplace is becoming more laid back and, boundaries become blurred.  

What is sexual harassment? 

Under the Equality Act 2010 (EQA), sexual harassment is defined as being unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim. It is a bit of a mouthful, so what then falls within this category?  

The simple answer is that any unwanted conduct which falls within the definition would amount to sexual harassment and this includes drunk text messages (or messages sent via social media) sent to colleagues with propositions, nude photographs and rude or offensive jokes. It can also include, discussions in communal area’s (seemingly private conversations) which go into explicit detail about sexual encounters or general consistent conversations of a sexual nature (around breasts and penises, for examples). 

Generally speaking (and there are certainly still a few exceptions) gone are the days where overt sexual harassment such as bottom grabbing, touching or sexual advancements where all that employers had to deal with. In the modern era, where technology and instant messaging, plays an increasingly large role in the workplace, sexual harassment is more covert. 

How to deal with complaints? 

Victims of sexual harassment usually tolerate the perpetrator for some time before they approach their line manager or HR to raise a complaint. Therefore, when raised it needs to be dealt with sensitively, ensuring internal grievance policies are followed and a fair investigation is undertaken.  

What you should not do is to deter a worker from raising the issue (by any implicit threat that this would affect their carer) or terminate their agreement. 

Conclusion

Employers can take preventative measure to avoid sexual harassment taking place in and out of the workplace by ensuring there are clear policies and guidelines in place, ensuring line managers are trained in implementing these policies and all staff are aware of the standard of behaviour expected of them. While this cannot guarantee that allegations will not be made, it will certainly reduce the likelihood and liability of the employer.

If you have any queries about sexual harassment, implementing policies, conducting investigations or litigation, please contact me on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Samira Cakali

Solicitor Advocate LLB (Hons), Higher Rights (Civil) at SCE Solicitors
Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.
Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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