The Equality Act 2010 (EqA) prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. We have provided some examples below of comments that you might hear in the workplace. Do you think they could amount to sexual harassment?
- “Do you need help carrying your equipment?”
- “You are too pretty to do that job”.
- “Will you take notes of the meeting?”
- “Is it your time of the month?”
- “You must have baby brain!”
- “Thank you for your help! You are a very good girl.”
- “You will be going bald soon!”
- “You are very pushy and ambitious.”
- You don’t need to work late if you need to take care of the children.”
- “Oh come on, man up!”
- “Can you make drinks for the meeting?”
- “Wear your heels for this meeting.”
Answer – ALL of the above statements could amount to sex harassment.
Under Section 26 of the EqA sex harassment can occur if a person engages in unwanted conduct related to sex and that conduct has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offence environment for B.
This often catches employers out as it means that behaviour that was not intended to upset or offend might still amount to sex harassment if it has the effect of upsetting or offending an individual. This can even occur when the comment made is not directed at that person.
It is however important to note in deciding whether conduct amounts to sex harassment, the following must be taken into account:
B’s perception of the conduct.
The other circumstances of the case.
Whether it is reasonable for the conduct to have that effect.
What does this mean for employers?
It is important to note that employers have a duty to keep their employees safe at work, and if sex harassment occurs, employers can be held responsible for the actions of their employees in the course of employment (vicarious liability). If an employment tribunal find that an employee was harassed on the grounds of sex, it can be extremely costly for employers. However, if employers can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent workplace harassment they may be able to escape being held vicariously liable. Some examples of reasonable steps include having up to date anti-harassment and discrimination at work policies/procedures and regular training on sex harassment and discrimination.
If you would like any further advice on what employers can do to prevent sexual harassment or would like to update your anti-harassment and discrimination policies and procedures, please contact Russell Brown at Glaisyers ETL.