Sexual harassment – Do you really know your responsibilities as an employer?

By Wilkin Chapman LLP | Posted: 14 Nov 2017

High-profile allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace have been met with a warning to employers from an expert at the region’s largest law firm.

Speaking after the stream of claims in the headlines over the last month, Partner at Wilkin Chapman solicitors Jane Eatock is raising awareness among businesses of the risks and responsibilities that rest on their shoulders.

And, she stressed, they should remember that it is not only an individual member of staff who could face a claim – but the employer too. Furthermore, cases of alleged harassment are not just confined to the workplace – with behaviour at social functions also under scrutiny.

“In law, anything done by an employee ‘in the course of their employment’ is seen as having also been done by the employer,” explained Ms Eatock.

“With that in mind, a reasonable question many would ask is the exact meaning of ‘the course of employment’ and what is the dividing line between what is work and what is personal?

“This is indeed blurred, especially if the conduct takes place off the premises or outside working hours, at social gatherings for example. Individual tribunals will base their decisions on a whole number of factors, and the slightest connection may be enough to land the employer with liability.” said Ms Eatock.

Action against employers through the civil courts was also a possibility under ‘Protection from Harassment’ legislation, warned Ms Eatock.

“It goes without saying that any successful harassment claim will have a financial impact on the employer but, as we are seeing, the reputational impact could cause much greater damage – and on a much wider and more serious scale,” she added.

Ms Eatock went on to advise how preventative measures were critical and the aim of every employer should be to have a workplace ‘free from sexual harassment’.  Discouraging inappropriate ‘workplace banter’ and creating the right culture were important elements in this process.

“Implementing and communicating sound policies on equal opportunities, anti-harassment and bullying, along with the appropriate training, would ensure that businesses have a strong defence in the event of any claim being brought” she added.

For further information, please contact Ms Eatock or a member of the Employment Law team at Wilkin Chapman solicitors on 01472 262626.

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