Sexual harassment in the workplace is again making headlines – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45986510.
The social stigma and fear of reprisal (especially in a working environment) has long swayed professionals to not report allegations of sexual harassment. Within the last year, there has been a significant increase in reported cases of sexual harassment, which many believe to be attributable to the success of the widespread #metoo movement.
What does this mean for you as an Employer?
As an employer, you acknowledge that you have a sufficient degree of control over your employee(s) – In turn, you are vicariously liable for them.
Whilst this is not an ‘absolute’ liability – employers are certainly liable if/when they fail to take steps to address harassment – Under Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010.
We would advise and encourage that all employers handle such matters sensitively – while of course, results and processes may vary on a ‘case by case’ basis, it is advisable to suspend the alleged harasser in order to carry out an effective investigation.
Whilst the alleged harasser may feel that this is punitive, such steps are not disciplinary in nature and one must bear in mind the effect on the harassee who would otherwise have no choice but to work with, or even for, the alleged harasser if such steps were not taken.
This process applies regardless of ‘who’ the allegations are made against.
When it comes to your liability as an employer and the statutory defence – it is the details that will make the difference. A lackluster investigative process and/or general deviation from good practice beforehand can result in an Employment Tribunal Judgment and declaration of sexual harassment.
Bear in mind that such Judgments are public knowledge and accessible to and by all, via the gov.uk portal.
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