There have been many recent cases of discrimination on the grounds of sex and sexual harassment as the #MeToo campaign has brought the problem to greater prominence than before. Sexual harassment, and harassment generally, is not acceptable in today’s modern society, although, as reports in the press make clear, there are some for whom the wind of change has not yet blown or who have avoided encountering it. This unhappy state of affairs was highlighted again in Ms G v London General Transport Services which was reported in People Management here.

How can employers act to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?

Employers need to take action both to prevent these types of incidence occurring and to ensure that they are protected against claims made by employees. Claims of discrimination, particularly harassment by an employee, or group of employees, against another employee are damaging to an employer’s business. It affects morale, causes employees to leave and inevitably leads to a loss of production and knowledge. Sometimes when faced by a claimant with a clear and obvious case of harassment the only sensible answer is to resolve the dispute as quickly and amicably as possible to limit the damage that is ultimately done, but that does not resolve the core problem.

Employers will never be able to prevent employees behaving badly, or in ways that are not acceptable. The law recognises the difficulty faced by employers. It does not require that an employer prevent acts of sexual harassment, or other types of harassment, what the employer has to do is demonstrate that it “took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from doing that thing or from doing anything of that description” .

What should an employer do to protect itself?

  1. Have a robust, clear and widely understood policy in place is the starting point.
  2. Ensure that all employees have received training on what is and is not acceptable behaviour.
  3. The training should be kept up to date and repeated on a regular basis for all employees. A record should be kept of the specific training and who attended.
  4. Ensure that managers behave in accordance with the standards expected.
  5. Those who fall short of the mark need to be advised of the issue caused by their shortfall.
  6. If necessary disciplinary action should be taken to ensure standards of behaviour are maintained.
  7. Employees should have access to a hotline that allows them to raise concerns about behaviour confidentially.

Nothing can ever be perfect. All an employer can do is its best to ensure that its employees work in an environment that is free from harassment. Ensuring that managers behave appropriately, robust policies, heightened awareness and training are all part of the package. Employers are not alone and there is much that can be done to protect their business.