Sexual Harassment- Reducing the risk of claims

Sexual Harassment- Reducing the risk of claims

Sexual harassment is defined by the European Commission in its 1991 Code of Practice as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of women and men at work including conduct of superiors and colleagues”.

This means that playful flirting or telling rude jokes can be deemed as harassment if it is offensive, unwanted or unreasonable to the recipient and creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating working environment for them.

The difficulty lies in the fact that we all have different levels of tolerance. As an example, a joke that is funny to one person can be offensive to the next.

Can employers’ be held responsible for the behaviour of their staff?

In simple terms, the answer is ‘yes’ and you need to take steps to minimise your risk.

As an employer, under the terms of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 you are vulnerable to a claim for sex discrimination and this extends to harassment carried outside work hours and off working premises.

How do employers minimise their risk?

It is important that you provide clearly defined rules to all members of staff as part of their employee handbook.

For example:

  • Having a complaints procedure for employees with a grievance
  • Ensuring all staff know that the company will not tolerate sexual harassment
  • Stating that it is a disciplinary offence to sexually harass another member of staff
  • Advising employees of the terms of the law
  • Advising employees of what types of behaviour can be deemed as harassment
  • Stating that any employee who witnesses behaviour which could be deemed as harassment should report it immediately

In addition, as ‘the boss’ your behaviour is very important and you should always lead by example.

For more structured advice, tailored to your business, your Hand Morgan and Owen Solicitor will assist you.

For more information please contact us at Stafford on 01785 211411, or at Rugeley on 01889 583871.

Published on web site – January 2007


The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances. (50587)