Is your workplace doing enough to prevent unwanted and inappropriate behaviour?

The hashtags #MeToo and #MenToo are still doing the rounds on social media in response to the Harvey Weinstein controversy. Thousands of women and men have spoken out about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, many related to the workplace, demonstrating how widespread the problem is across all types of professions and industries.

Much of the improper behaviour alleged has been unlawful in the workplace for many years. It Anything done by an employee in the course of their employment is treated as being done by the employer – the employer can be held to be liable for an act of harassment by one employee against another.

The Equality Act 2010 provides that the following forms of harassment are unlawful:

• unwanted conduct related to sex or conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of violating that person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them; and
• less favourable treatment because the employee has rejected or submitted to such conduct.
In considering the ‘effect’ of the conduct, an employment tribunal will take into account the following:

• the employee’s perception of the conduct;
• the circumstances of the case; and
• whether it is reasonable for that conduct to have that effect on the individual

Employers should note that a single incident can be sufficient to constitute harassment. If the conduct is serious enough to be reasonably considered as harassment, there may be no need for the victim to have already made it clear that the conduct is unwarranted.

Employers are expected to demonstrate that they have taken ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent such conduct such as:

• training for employees and managers on appropriate behaviour at work
• having an equal opportunities policy and a dignity at work policy;
• regularly reviewing and updating those policies;
• ensuring employees know how to raise issues – informally and formally – perhaps by providing a confidential reporting line;
• making sure that steps are taken to address complaints promptly; and
• taking disciplinary action where appropriate.

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