The latest government scandal seems to be a cover up of inappropriate behaviour by the former Lib Dem party’s chief executive, Lord Rennard towards women spanning several years. It has been alleged that there has been a cover up of the allegations by Nick Clegg.
Sexual harassment is very serious and organisations can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. In accordance with the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to harass an employee because of their sex. Harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. It can also include making offensive remarks about a person’s sex. Victim and harasser can be either a man or a woman. The victim and the harasser can be the same sex. Harassment can create a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive work environment.
Verbal signs of sexual harassment include:
- comments about appearance, body or clothes
- indecent remarks
- questions or comments about sex life
Non verbal signs include:
- staring at someone’s body
- displaying sexually explicit material eg calendars, pin ups
Physical signs include:
- physically touching
- sexual assault
The first step for a person being harassed would be for them to confront the harasser and ask them to stop. If incidents continue to occur a diary should be kept. It the behaviour continues then the person being harassed should approach their employer with a grievance – either a line manager or HR. They do not need a specific length of service to raise a claim of sexual harassment which is a form of sex discrimination.
Following a grievance hearing, the employer should do a full investigation considering whether to suspend the perpetrator or not depending on the severity of the circumstances. Following a full investigation a report should be produced on which the outcome should be based. The outcome should be provided in writing to the person who has been harassed with the right to appeal if the outcome is not favourable ie no case to answer.
If it has been decided that the harassment took place then a decision must be made whether to move the perpetrator or not and whether they should be disciplined. Serious sexual harassment is gross misconduct which may command summary dismissal.
Employers who fail to deal with sexual harassment appropriately may end up in an employment tribunal. Compensation is unlimited.