While the media buzzes with varying degrees of outrage related to the regrettable comments made by Andy Gray and Richard Keys about a female lineswoman, employers may want to take this opportunity to ensure their own staff are aware of the kind of behaviour which is and is not acceptable at work.
The definition of harassment (and the risk of possible claims) was expanded by the Equality Act in October 2010. An employee may bring a harassment claim if conduct related to a protected characteristic violates their dignity or creates a degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The relevant protected characteristics are age; disability; gender reassignment; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. Conduct does not need to be directed at the victim and they do not need to have the protected characteristic themselves in order for there to be harassment.
Under the Equality Act an employer may be liable for acts of harassment committed by its employees unless it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent it occurring. Implementing appropriate diversity and harassment policies and ensuring staff are adequately trained will be important steps to take. In this age of technological advances (and recording devices!) it is even more important that employees are aware of when conduct may cross the line.
Mills & Reeve has produced an online dignity and diversity course and can also provide face-to-face training for staff at all levels on equal opportunities.