In light of the many recent news stories concerning sexual harassment in the work place many employers are reviewing their policies in this area and ACAS has recently published new guidance for employers on how to identify and support people who face sexual harassment at work.
Employers who seek advice on writing policy or dealing with allegations of sexual harassment should consult employment law advice givers for employers and read the ACAS guidelines.
The experience of sexual harassment is an extremely difficult situations for an employee to face and employees are protected from sexual harassment in both employment law and criminal law, dependent on the seriousness of the case. By definition sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature and even if the alleged harasser didn’t intend it to be, the action can still be considered sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, male or female, at any level of an organisation and harassment can be by people of the same or opposite sex.
When writing policy employers should make clear what type of actions may be considered sexual harassment and that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. Examples can include
written or verbal comments of a sexual nature, for example offensive jokes, remarks about an employee’s appearance, or questions about their sex life.
The displaying of explicit or pornographic images
sending emails with content of a sexual nature
unwanted physical contact and touching
Where serious cases of sexual assault or physical threats are made the police should be informed. The employer should still follow its disciplinary procedure without waiting for the outcome of any criminal proceedings unless this cannot be completed fairly.
Complaints of sexual harassment should be taken very seriously and if unsure of how to proceed in any instances employers should seek advice from an employment law advisor.