The ‘Me Too’ campaign has spread across social media recently to publicise and condemn sexual harassment in the wake of a number of high profile sexual misconduct allegations within workplaces from Westminster to Hollywood.
The Equality Act 2010
Section 26 of the Equality Act states that a person harasses another if they engage in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or related to a relevant protected characteristic (such as sex) and the conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person targeted.
Harassment also occurs if the person targeted rejects or accepts the conduct and this results in the person targeted being treated less favourably by another.
In deciding what amounts to harassment, the Employment Tribunal must take into account the circumstances of the case, the perception of the person targeted and whether it is reasonable for the conduct to have the effect stated. There is no need for the person targeted to have already made it clear that the conduct is unwanted in order for it to constitute harassment.
Employment Tribunal Fees
The recent ruling that Employment Tribunal fees blocked access to justice was made, in part, due to the fact that tribunal fees disproportionately affected women, who are more likely to be subjected to treatment warranting a tribunal claim, such as harassment.
With no ‘qualifying service’ necessary for a claim under the Equality Act and no fees to pay, employers may face an increase in the number of claims made against them.
Regardless of whether to conduct was known or approved, employers may also be liable for acts of their employees performed ‘in the course of employment’. Employers may avoid liability where they can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the act.
Any reasonable step by the Employer must be established before any alleged harassment has occurred. This can include:
- Introducing procedures such as a ‘Dignity at Work’ or ‘Equal Opportunities’ policy,
- Training employees on the Equality Act;
- Dealing with grievances and disciplinary action effectively.
For further information on the Equality Act, contact Hatchers Solicitors’ Employment Law Team on 01743 248545.
The next HR Forum (date to be announced) will focus on data protection; specifically, the new General Data Protection Regulations and salient points relating to employment.
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If you are interested in attending our next H R Forum please contact Sally Edwards on 01743 237693 or firstname.lastname@example.org