Under the Equality Act, sexual harassment occurs where both:
- A person engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.
- This conduct has the purpose or effect of either violating the other person's dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
A person can be sexually harassed by someone of the same or a different sex.
Rights of Women, a women’s charity, has warned that platforms used by employers to facilitate home working (Zoom, Lifesize, Teams, instant messaging services etc.) has given a new way for harassers to access potential victims. They conducted a survey between 23 November and 15 December 2020 which showed that, of women experiencing sexual harassment at work, 42% reported experiencing some or all of the harassment online and 23% reported an increase or escalation of the harassment since the start of lockdown in March 2020.
It also reported that victims have felt less able to report the harassment whilst they are working remotely.
Businesses can take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and it is important that they do. Measures that employers can consider taking include:
- Conducting investigations into the extent of the potential problem in the business, and identifying any areas of risk.
- Having a culture of zero-tolerance towards any harassment and an environment where all employees are encouraged to report any inappropriate behaviour.
- Ensuring that policies are up to date, accessible and clearly set out the zero-tolerance approach, and how employees can report inappropriate conduct.
- Ensuring managers are trained appropriately, and that they deal with any complaints quickly, appropriately and effectively.
- Providing anti-harassment training for all employees.
With remote working, line managers need to ensure that they are still in regular contact with their team, and that their reports feel as though they are able to raise any concerns they may have, and not just with harassment concerns.
Smith Partnership’s employment team can offer support to employees who feel as though they have been subjected to sexual harassment at work, as well as being able to support businesses with policies and training