5 Sexual Harassment at Work Myths Busted

BlogHR Advice Posted: Sunday 25th September 2016 by

Whilst the Equality Act 2010 is very clear about its stance on sexual harassment at work, recent studies by the TUC, which represents nearly six million workers in the UK, show that this hasn’t translated into British workplaces. More than half of all woman reported experiencing workplace sexual harassment at some point in their career, with figures spiking for those aged between 18 to 24.

The effects on an employer can be financially and reputationally severe. The number one way to stop incidences is through employee awareness – a strong policy on sexual harassment is important, but it must be supported by regular and thorough staff training that dispels the myths surrounding sexual harassment at work. Here are the top five misconceptions, and why they won’t hold up in any employment tribunal.

1) All perpetrators are male and in positions of authority. This isn’t correct. Whilst most cases are between staff of unequal relationships and often brought against men, there have been cases brought against women, by both men and women. Additionally, complaints have been made by women against a subordinate male or group of males. Simply put, your gender and job title don’t matter in matters of sexual harassment.

2) Sexual harassment only counts if it’s physical. Wrong. Sexual harassment is any unwanted contact of a sexual nature, and physical harassment is only one of three broad categories, including verbal, non-verbal and physical.

If a behaviour violates your dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment, it’s considered to be sexual harassment. This holds true even if the perpetrator has nothing to gain by their behaviour.

Verbal: comments about appearance, body, clothes and sex life, indecent remarks, demands and requests for sexual favours, and related threats or promises.

Non-verbal: looking or staring at an individual’s body, and displaying sexually explicit material.

Physical: touching, hugging, caressing, pinching, kissing, in addition to sexual assault and rape.

3) It’s not serious because it was a long time ago and only once. Victims may have a number of reasons why they don’t immediately object to behaviour and in some cases, even seem to take part – these can include job security fears, an attempt to diffuse an uncomfortable situation, or a fear of being branded a trouble-maker. All of these will be taken into consideration by an employment tribunal. The number of times doesn’t matter either. One act still constitutes harassment, whether physical, verbal or non-verbal, even if nothing further occurs for a long period afterwards.

4) Only a direct victim can claim harassment. Not true. Individuals who overhear or witness behaviour that falls within the definition of sexual harassment are able to make a claim. Employers will be judged on the culture of their organisation and the type of atmosphere that the claimant has been subjected to.

5) A bit of banter is fine outside of work. This is another prevalent inaccuracy about sexual harassment at work. Employers can be found liable for their staff’s behaviour outside of the immediate working environment. This includes conferences, away days and even post-work socialising not organised by the employer.

Human Results offer expert HR services on retainer, or on a one-off basis to help guide you through the daily challenges of managing your business from a people perspective, including employee engagement, dispute resolution and resolving workplace conflict. We also provide expert leadership development coaching programmes to secure long-term capability within your organisation, and a critical support structure for your leaders.

For more information, call Human Results on 01952 288361 for a no obligation, confidential discussion.

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