At last month’s BAFTA awards, female stars once again brought the issue of sexual harassment into the limelight by wearing black in support of the “TimesUp” campaign against sexual harassment in the film industry.
Many have questioned why it has taken so long for such allegations to come to light and why they were not raised at the time. Perhaps the real question is why the issue was never tackled given that the signs appear to have been there all along. It should also ring alarm bells for every organisation as to what steps they have taken to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur in their workplace.
Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour that is intended or has the effect of making someone feel intimidated, humiliated, degraded or offended, where the reason for such treatment is due to their sex. It can affect men as well as women and can be due to a one-off incident, as well as a series of incidents. It is a form of sexual discrimination and companies are frequently held liable for the acts of their employees where one employee harasses another.
When the harassment is caused by a senior employee, tackling harassment can be difficult due to the position of power they hold. However, this is precisely why it has to be addressed. Failure to do so is likely to result in compensation awards potentially being higher if firms do not do so. In 2015/16 the average sex discrimination award in England and Wales was £85,622. The highest was £1,762,130. Then there is the reputational damage to the company, not to mention the anguish caused to those affected.
Organisations can avoid liability if they can show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring. This would include having an equal opportunities policy in place and training managers on how to deal with allegations if they arise or if they observe inappropriate behaviour. The defence is only available if the preventative steps have been taken before any allegation arises. Training courses are a cost-effective way of managing that risk, particularly now that the removal of Tribunal fees means the likelihood of a claim is now much higher. The defence is only available if the preventative steps have been taken before any allegation arises.
For further advice contact Lupton Fawcett’s employment law partner, Joan Pettingill, on 0114 2283252 or firstname.lastname@example.org