I’m going to give this to you straight. Sexual harassment is not about sex. It’s about power.
The 2016 TUC report, conducted in collaboration with Everyday Sexism, revealed 52% of 1,533 women surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. It is a real and definite issue that needs facing into.
It’s also not just a “women’s issue”, men (despite fewer reported incidences) are victims too.
Indeed sexual harassment knows no bounds and (ironically) does not discriminate by age, race, religion or sex. It may feel like there is currently a sexual harassment epidemic in the world’s workplaces, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
First things first, let’s explore what sexual harassment means.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is an unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature.
Is it unlawful?
Yes. Under the Equality Act 2010, sexual harassment is unlawful discrimination defined as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that has the intent or consequence of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating environment.
Sexual harassment can involve unwanted physical behaviour between two individuals from comments and written correspondence, to touching and sexual assault.
However, it is important to note that sexual harassment doesn’t just involve this direct exchange, one individual harassing another.
Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading and humiliating environment can include the use of sexually explicit language or jokes (not necessarily directed at one person in particular) or displaying pornographic content (videos, photos, drawings) in the workplace.
A duty of care
The responsibility of employers to prevent sexual harassment doesn’t stop at the end of the working day nor at the threshold of the office building.
Employers’ duty to prevent harassment between colleagues extends across satellite sites, external work-related events such as corporate events and training days, or work social events. Not forgetting the digital realm of social media.
Where employers have not adhered to this duty to prevent harassment, claims can be brought against both the perpetrating colleague and the employer for allowing this behaviour to exist.
This duty can also extend to third-party harassment by clients or customers. Although employers aren’t responsible for harassment by someone external to the company, if a complaint is raised and nothing is done to stop the harassment, the employer is likely to be held responsible.
Just a bit of bants
When a claim of sexual harassment is made, a response by the perpetrator of “it was just a joke” or “can’t they take a compliment?” is not a defence. Where’s the harm, right?
Well…if an employer does not investigate or take the claim seriously, they are failing in their duty to prevent harassment in the workplace, and can, therefore, be held responsible for allowing or dismissing this behaviour as “just a bit of bants”.
The harm of dismissing sexual harassment claims or sweeping them under the carpet can be great – not just to the victim, and the work ethic and wellbeing of other employees, but to the reputation of the company.
This is where cultivating your culture of respect and openness comes in. It’s simple, easy and oh so effective. Let’s get started.
At Tell Jane, our goal is to support business to foster a culture of openness. We work with companies to give a voice to their employees who have been subjected to unwanted behaviour.
If you are interested in creating a culture with integrity within your workplace then get in touch today.
Feel like you need more?
Why not sign up to one of our upcoming seminars or webinars discussing harassment at work? Click here
Check out our Back to basics: Defining discrimination blog.