The problem of harassment has frequently been in the press with many high-profile news stories hitting the headlines over the past few years. There have been stories about celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic but at the same time, there has been an increase in the number of cases of harassment in the UK.
In January 2018 there was the President’s Club Dinner at the Dorchester Hotel, London which was attended by an undercover reporter. This men-only charity event which in a raft of shocking sexual harassment allegations.
Well before this, sexual harassment has been surfacing as a problem in UK workplaces for some time. In August 2016, the TUC produced research which stated that more than half of women said they had experienced sexual harassment at work. In 2017, a survey of 2000 people carried out by the BBC found that 37% of all those asked had experienced sexual harassment. In November 2018, Acas produced a document “Sexual harassment in the British workplace” which referred to surveys which found that more than a third of women had experienced sexual harassment at work.
Harassment does not just apply to women in the workplace. The definition of harassment is set out in the Equality Act 2010 and it is described as unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic (eg: sex. race, disability etc) and this has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity.
The effect of harassment is considered subjectively from the perception of the person bringing the claim which means that even if there was no intention to harass, what matters is the perception of person on the receiving end and whether the definition is met. It is no defence to say that the behaviour was just a joke.
This can be difficult for employers, especially in an environment where ‘banter’ may be the norm, but a tribunal would also consider the circumstances in which the conduct took place. Employers need to ensure they have robust policies and procedures in place and carry out training for staff and line managers who have to set standards and are likely to deal with initial complaints.
Some employers use Non-Disclosure Agreements in Settlement Agreements or to stop employees talking publicly about harassment or discrimination in the workplace and the Government has recently issued a consultation document on measures to prevent misuse of these.
The document proposes three changes. One is a ban on stopping people going to the police to report the harassment. Secondly, if there is a confidentiality clause as part of the employment contract, it needs to be included in the written statement of terms and conditions. Finally, it proposes that any confidentiality clause needs to expressly state that the clause does not stop the person from making a protected disclosure (whistleblowing) or going to the police. If this statement is not included, the clause will be void.
The consultation document can be found here.
NOTE: From the 6th April 2019 all employers are required to
- Provide payslips to all workers, not just employees
- Show hours on payslips where pay varies by the amount of time worked
Guidance can be found here.