“Me Too” campaign forces employers to examine their dignity at work policies

The recent publicity surrounding sexual harassment and the “Me Too” campaign has forced employers to examine their strategies in dealing with harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The law defines sexual harassment as behaviour that is either meant to, or has the effect of:

• violating dignity, or
• creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment

It is also worth bearing in mind that many people respond to situations in different ways. What may seem like an innocent action or remark to one person may be deemed offensive by another and the law sides with the ‘victim’ not the ‘perpetrator’. Since there is no single definition, the test is how the recipient feels about the behaviour. Whilst men can also be subject to sexual harassment, the vast majority of cases have been by women against men. It is estimated that 50% of women in employment are, or have been, subject to sexual harassment of some form or other.

Employers must take any complaints seriously – complaints must not be dismissed as “office banter” and employers should be seen to condemn inappropriate behaviour and to provide a safe environment in which employees of any gender can complain about harassment and breaches of their dignity at work.

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