Firstly, let’s review what the definition of sexual harassment is according to ACAS;
Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. The law (Equality Act 2010) protects the following people against sexual harassment at work:
– employees and workers
– contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work
– job applicants
To be sexual harassed, the unwanted behaviour must have either:
– violated someone’s dignity, whether it was intended or not
– created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them, whether it was intended or not
However, as Employers we need to be aware that whilst the harassment needs to be related to the sex of a person, it does not necessarily have to be of a sexual nature. A recent Employment tribunal ruled that calling a man ‘bald’ is sex related harassment. Tony Finn, who worked at a West Yorkshire Manufacturing firm for almost 24 years when he was fired in May last year. He took the company to the tribunal claiming, among other things, he had been the victim of sex-related harassment after an incident with the factory supervisor, Jamie King. Calling a man “bald” is sex-related harassment, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Hair loss is much more prevalent among men than women so using it to describe someone is a form of sex-related harassment, the judgment concluded. Commenting on a man’s baldness in the workplace is equivalent to remarking on the size of a woman’s breasts, the finding suggests.
What do we need to do as Employers?
Well not surprisingly we need to do all we can to try and prevent sexual harassment happening in the first place. Whilst if an employee harasses someone at work, they are responsible for their own actions, Employers can be responsible too. This is called ‘vicarious liability.’
It is important to have clear policies and procedures in place to protect your business. In addition, I would strongly recommend training for Managers, so that they can prevent any inappropriate behaviour. It is pointless having policies in place if you do not follow them. If a complaint of sexual harassment is made, then it should be taken very seriously. It will need to be investigated sensitively and fairly for all parties involved.
It is important to note, that as Employers we have a duty of care to look after the well-being of our Employees. If an Employer does not do this, it may lead to a serious breach in the Employee’s contract. If they resign as a consequence of this, they may submit a claim for constructive dismissal.
As identified before, recent rulings have demonstrated that sexual harassment has more breadth than most realise, and it is probably a suitable time to review all related policies and procedures to ensure they are fit for purpose.