‘Workplace sexual harassment is a thing of the past’.  Apparently not, the latest report from the Trades Union Congress titled ‘Still just a bit of banter?’ following a survey of 1,533 people reveals that harassment of this nature continues to affect a significant number of women on a daily basis.  The research has revealed that 52% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work, 63% of which were aged 18 – 24.

So what is classed as sexual harassment?  Under the Equality Act 2010 this is a form of discrimination to include sexual comments or jokes, physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching and various forms of sexual assault, displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature and sending e-mails with a sexual content.

Whilst sexual harassment can have an impact on the victim’s mental health, leaving them feeling humiliated, few instances are reported and many others continue to endure inappropriate behaviour from their perpetrators. The research revealed that 79% of woman did not inform their line manager. This is because some had concerns regarding their career prospects; other reasons included creating an uncomfortable working environment, simply feeling embarrassed or fear of not being believed. Worryingly, 17% of the women admitted that the perpetrator was in fact their line manager.

The sample of women surveyed is considered sufficient to represent the experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic woman. Therefore, the evidence is clear and the issue of sexual harassment is very much alive and contrary to the motion; ‘a thing of the past’.

In light of the findings above, it becomes increasingly important for employers to ensure the internal complaints procedure is effective as a means of dealing with reports of sexual harassment. Of course this will require clear channels of communication between the employer and employees. It also requires a robust investigation process whilst  giving particular regard to the issue of privacy.

Employers should be particularly aware that sexual harassment is not limited to any acts occasioned by a perpetrator. Victims who are treated badly by others due to their response following an incident also fall in the ambit of Equality Act 2010.   An example of this may include reducing the number of a victim’s contract hours to avoid future conflict. Therefore, an employer can be held liable for their failure to provide a sufficient remedy.

If you are an employer and require further advice regarding your company’s policies dealing with  sexual harassment at the workplace or where you require  specific advice in relation to a particular report, please contact our employment team at CH Legal on 0161 745 9170.