Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace was not specifically legislated against until 2005 when a new section was added to the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, now the Equality Act 2010.

This new section ensures that no one is subjected to unwanted sexual conduct in the workplace, whether this is verbal, non-verbal or physical. In the Equality Act, this conduct is defined as sexual harassment if, based on a person’s sex, it:

  • violates dignity;
  • creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment; or
  • if the person is treated less favourably on the grounds of rejecting this conduct.

The Equality Act also include a provision that covers sexual harassment in the workplace, which protects people from being harassed on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

Sexual harassment could include:

  • unwelcome comments of a sexual nature
  • unnecessary touching or unwanted physical contact
  • leering at someone's body
  • displaying offensive material such as posters
  • sending offensive e-mails. This includes colleagues downloading pornographic e-mails, even if they aren't sent to your employee directly.
  • insensitive jokes

Your employees are protected by the law against sexual harassment not only from you as their employer, but also from their colleagues. Sexual harassment could be a one-off incident or a series of incidents, and it could be deliberate and nasty, or unintended. It is treated very seriously by employment tribunals and awards in sexual harassment cases can be very high.

There is no minimum period of employment necessary for your employees to be eligible to make a claim under the sex discrimination legislation, although they are likely to raise a grievance in the first instance, and it is advisable for you to try and use internal procedures to resolve any issues raised.

If you are seeking to put into practice a policy to safeguard your employees from sexual harassment, or if you need any further information regarding your obligations, Ashby Cohen can help you. We specialise in employment law cases, and our years of experience as employment lawyers make us especially qualified to assist you with any sexual harassment issues you may have with your employees. Please contact us for an initial free telephone consultation.

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