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Sexual harassment at work – a quick guide for employees

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Sexual harassment – an overview

If you are an independent contractor or an employee then you are protected under the Equality Act 2010 from being sexually harassed in the workplace. This applies whether you are male or female.

It is unlawful for you to be subjected in the workplace to conduct which is sexual in nature and has the purpose or effect of, for example, violating your dignity in the workplace.

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The legal definition of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is defined under s.26(2) of the Equality Act 2010 as follows:

(2 )A also harasses B if—
(a) A engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, and
(b) the conduct has the purpose or effect referred to in subsection (1)(b)s.26(2) Equality Act 2010

The purpose or effect referred to in s.27(1)(b) is conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating your worker’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive  environment for you.

Conduct of “a sexual nature” covers a variety of different types of conduct, including verbal, non-verbal and/or physical contact, which occur in the course of employment. What is “in the course of employment” can sometimes be a grey area – if you’re sexually harassed whilst sitting at your desk in your workplace then it is pretty clear that this is in the course of employment. However, some examples are less clear-cut – what if you’re sexually harassed by a colleague on an evening out with work-mates, for instance? Each case very much depends on its particular facts and circumstances and you should seek expert employment law advice if you think you have been sexually harassed at work.

Did you know?

You may be able to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal for damages for injury to feelings, as well as compensation for any lost earnings, if you think that you have been sexually harassed in the workplace.

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Examples of sexual harassment at work

  • One of your co-workers puts up a pornographic calendar in the office and this upsets you
  • One of your co-workers touches your knee and makes unwanted comments which are sexually suggestive
  • One of your colleagues sends you an email with an explicit picture of a sexual nature in it and this offends you
  • You overhear a joke of a sexual nature in the workplace and the nature of this joke upsets you
  • A colleague tries to kiss you at your employer’s Christmas party

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Sexual harassment cases in the newspapers

  • Banker labelled ‘crazy miss cokehead’ wins harassment claim (The Telegraph)
  • Female sales executives win big payout over sex pest boss who groped and ogled them (The Evening Standard)
  • Top surgeon sacked after allegedly harassing two female trainee doctors, tribunal hears (The Telegraph)

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Action you can take if you’re being sexually harassed at work

If you think that you are being sexually harassed at work then you should take action as soon as possible. Below are some examples of what you can do:

  • Inform your line manager that you believe that you are being sexually harassed. Make sure that you put a complaint in writing (preferably by email so that there is a time and date stamp on the complaint and you can prove that it has been sent to the relevant person) and keep a copy. If you think that it is your line manager who is sexually harassing you then make a complaint so someone else in a position of authority in your organisation.
  • Make a formal complaint (known as a “grievance”) to your HR department and also keep a copy of this
  • Obtain specialist advice from a qualified person – you can either consult a lawyer directly or make an appointment with the Citizens Advice Bureau to obtain initial advice
  • Collect evidence of the incidents that you think constitute sexual harassment. An important thing to do is to keep a diary of all of the incidents of harassment that you think that you have suffered and to record exactly who was involved and what happened. Try and obtain any witness evidence that you can from colleagues who have seen or heard things. Keep any letters, emails, minutes of meetings etc. that you think are relevant.

Speak to one of our expert employment solicitors about your case

If you think that you’ve been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace then call one of our expert employment solicitors for a free consultation to discuss a potential Employment Tribunal claim today

phone-contact020 3397 3603

email-contact enquiries@redmans.co.uk

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Making an Employment Tribunal claim for sexual harassment

If you want to make an Employment Tribunal claim for sexual harassment then you must do the following:

  • Make your claim within three months of the last date of sexual harassment/discrimination (this is also known as the “limitation date”). The last date of discrimination can often be difficult to pinpoint so you must be extremely careful that you do not fall outside of the three-month period
  • Gather enough evidence to allow you to prove your case in the Tribunal – this includes both documentary evidence and, if applicable, witness evidence.

It’s important to note that (unlike, for example, unfair dismissal claims) you don’t need to have worked for your employer for any particular length of time to make a claim for sexual harassment – you have the right to do this from “day one”.

You may have to pay a fee to issue your claim for sexual harassment unless you qualify for a fee remission. You may also have to pay a fee for the Employment Tribunal hearing – again, you may not need to do so if you qualify for a fee remission.

Details of when you may qualify for a fee remission are available in the EX160A form on the Ministry of Justice website.

Did you know?

You must make normally an Employment Tribunal claim for sexual harassment within 3 months of the date of the last incident of harassment.

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Who is liable for sexual harassment at work

Under the Equality Act 2010 both the colleague who has sexually harassed you and the business that employed you may be liable in any Employment Tribunal claim.

Example
If you’ve been sexually harassed at work by a colleague of yours then both your colleague and the business that employs you may be liable for sexual harassment (unless your employer can successfully employ a defence to your harassment claim

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What happens if you’re victimized for making a Tribunal complaint of sexual harassment

If you do any of the acts listed below (known as a “protected act”) and are then subjected to any form of detriment or dismissal because you have done so then you may be able to make a claim for “victimization” under the Equality Act. A protected act can include:

  • Making or threatening to make an informal or formal complaint about sexual harassment (or any other form of harassment or discrimination) within your organisation
  • Helping a colleague to make a complaint or helping them with their Employment Tribunal claim regarding harassment or discrimination
  • Making or threatening to make an Employment Tribunal claim for discrimination or harassment

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Call Redmans today to discuss your employment law matter

Call Redmans on 020 3397 3603 or email us at enquiries@redmans.co.uk to discuss your employment law matter.

Alternatively, you can call Chris Hadrill, the partner responsible for the employment department, on 020 3397 3601 or email him at chadrill@redmans.co.uk.

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Chris Hadrill
Name: Chris Hadrill
Position: Partner
Email: chadrill@redmans.co.uk
Telephone: 020 3397 3601
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Disability discrimination

Our guide explains that you can't be discriminated against because you are disabled. It covers rights your right to have reasonable adjustments made to the workplace to compensate your disability, your right not to be treated less favourably because you are disabled, and your right not to be subjected to a detriment as a consequence of your disability. It also includes a guide to what action you can potentially take if you believe that you are being discriminated against because you are disabled.

Basic rights at work

Rights at work includes the right to time off work, your contract of employment, your rights regarding health and safety, regarding trade unions, discrimination, harassment, bullying, harassment, victimization, and whistleblowing

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