The recent survey which has been published by the TUC should make alarming reading for many employers. 1,500 women were surveyed in connection with their experiences at work. 52% stated that they had been subjected to some form of sexual harassment at work and most admitted to not reporting it. It would appear that young women are subjected to even higher levels of harassment. 63% of the women surveyed aged between 18 and 24 said that they had been sexually harassed at work. These women had been subjected to comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothing, had received unwanted verbal sexual advances and around 1 in 8 experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them at work.
Sexual harassment at work can take many forms from inappropriate comments and jokes about a colleague’s sex life to touching, hugging or kissing and even demands for sexual favours. The Citizens Advice Bureau have also indicated that sex discrimination can affect people when applying for promotion, flexible working or even when being selected for redundancy or training.
Another alarming fact from this survey was that 79% of the women who said that they had been victims of sexual harassment did not wish to tell their employers. They feared that reporting would affect their relationship at work or their career prospects. It also indicated that they did not report what had happened because they felt that they would not be believed or taken seriously or would be too embarrassed.
This survey should be alarming to employers. The potential compensation payment arising from a successful claim of sex discrimination, harassment or victimisation is unlimited in an Employment Tribunal. All employers should show that they are acting positively to ensure that inappropriate behaviour of this nature is actively discouraged. All employers should have an Equals Opportunities Policy, a Dignity at Work Policy and an Harassment Policy which clearly details the expectations placed upon all employees. It should be made clear that anybody found guilty of inappropriate behaviour of this nature may face disciplinary action and dismissal. Any complaints should be taken seriously and handled in accordance with the harassment policy or a grievance procedure. Investigation should be undertaken and, if appropriate, the alleged offender should be suspended to avoid on-going issues in connection with victimisation against the complainants.
Employers should be alive to the prospect of inappropriate behaviour taking place. It is a situation whereby rumours of inappropriate behaviour should not be treated light heartedly but should be investigated as if the complainant had detailed the matters to their employer. Failure to do so could give rise to an allegation that the inappropriate behaviour had in some way been condoned.
As a final point, employers should also be aware that inappropriate behaviour of this nature is no always carried out by a man upon a woman. A member of our employment team has successfully represented a man who was subjected to inappropriate sexual behaviour towards him by a woman. The case ultimately settled for substantial compensation.
It is extremely important to treat matters of this nature seriously. Should such a situation arise, we would be able to guide you through the required investigations and procedures in order to limit your potential exposure to discrimination claims.