The topic of women’s safety at work and at large (doing something as simple as just walking home), has, unfortunately, hit the headlines once again. Sadly, the recent deaths of two women (Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa everyday lives.
One of the biggest issues that women face in the workplace is being undermined and overbooked for promotion, followed closely by the very serious issue of sexual harassment, covert and overt, be that at work or in public. The #Metoo movement went viral back in 2017 after the allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey. Now it’s taken these two tragic deaths to once again highlight the precarious position that some women face through no fault of their own, because of their gender.
Recent statistics suggest that sexual harassment at work is still prevalent and has not been properly addressed, despite this topic being a regular feature in the press and on social media.
Half of women in the UK have been victims of sexual harassment at work. The survey uncovered an interesting fact, which you would not expect, that this problem does not only concern women, as one in five men has experienced sexual harassment at his workplace. R
Research conducted in 2016 showed that victims do not report sexual harassment at work by fear of embarrassment (20%), or that they would not be taken seriously (24%), and finally, that reporting it would affect their relationships at work (28%).
Your Legal Rights
The Equality Act 2010 offers protection to employees and independent contractors. Sexual harassment is when “A engages in unwanted conduct […] and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B“.
Sexual harassment can be verbal and/or physical. Inappropriate comments or touching, sexually explicit jokes by email or persistent requests for dates are examples of sexual harassment. Additionally, unwanted conduct related to the employee’s gender, such as criticising an employee’s childcare arrangement, is also considered to be sexual harassment. Finally, an employee is victim of sexual harassment if he/she is treated less favourably after refusing sexual advances or being victim of them.
Several actions can be taken to rectify the situation. The first step if you are able to, is to let the perpetrator know that their actions are inappropriate and offensive. This can be extremely difficult for the victim, so the next step would be to inform a person in a position of authority in writing (Line Manager or HR). The employer/organisation should then invite the employee/worker to a grievance meeting and provide an outcome within a reasonable time.
One reason claims often fail is because of lack of evidence and unspecified times and dates events happened. Therefore, it is crucial to gather evidence by writing down the times and dates, along with noting down names of potential witnesses.
An employer can be held liable for the actions of an employee, including for sexual harassment. In order to prevent this, the employer can show that it took reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, known as a ‘statutory defence’. This is done by having an anti-harassment policy, undertaking equal opportunity training and showing zero tolerance when disciplining perpetrators.
Sexual harassment can render the working environment intolerable for the victim and these claims should always be treated very seriously. The law protecting victims of sexual harassment exists, however statistics have shown that raising the alarm about sexual harassment can be difficult, especially when your job is at stake.
Following the recent deaths, women have started sharing their experiences of feeling unsafe and once again triggered a furore of debate surrounding this troubling issue. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has announced the appointment of an independent figure to conduct a review of Met culture and standards in order to rebuild public trust. Let’s hope this moves the debate forward in the right direction!