This essay will be explaining and evaluating current law on sexual harassment, we should all be aware of equality and dignity within the workplace no matter what job you have or what position you hold within a company and we are all are aware of what the outcome can be if found accused of sexual harassment, but this wasn’t always the case before the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 there was no or very limited protection to certain categories of workers, these were not just women that was discriminated against but men as well, also with new legislation employers have increasingly more responsibility for educating their staff , if they don’t show reasonable steps in enforcing the Act they will in turn become liable for their employees actions.
What is sexual harassment in the workplace and who does if affect? Well it can affect both sexes also men and women under going gender reassignment so in the broader sense sexual harassment can affect anyone in the work place.
As for the meaning sexual harassment this can be defined in many ways for example unfair treatment or insulting someone, criticism and unwelcome sexual advances or unfair pay issues these are just to mention a few. Since the introduction of the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 that was implemented by Employment Equality (Sex discriminations) Regulations 2005 there have been many amendments to the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 one of them is defining two types of sexual harassment the first is of a non sexual nature for example unwanted conduct or degrading someone’s dignity which can be interpreted as intimidating, hostile, or offensive acts, these may not necessarily be directly verbal to the recipient for instance email or spreading malicious rumours could be used.
The second definition of sexual harassment is of where a perpetrator directly engages in verbal or non verbal acts that can be of a sexual nature it can also include actual physical contact that the recipient will find offensive and degrading, any sexual acts via a perpetrator will be classed as unlawful.
The main recipients of sexual discrimination within the workplace have always been traditionally women; equal pay for women has always been an issue and still is today.
In 1925 Poplar Borough Council took the bold leap and was trying to introduce equal pay for both sexes within the borough, Lord Atkinson stated in the case of Roberts v Hopwood (1925) (1) that Poplar Borough Council had been guided by “some eccentric principles of socialist philanthropy or by a feminist ambition to secure the equality of sexes in the matter of wages in the world of labour” (1), Poplar Borough Council’s policy from Lord Atkinson’s point of view was not feasible and remained unchanged until the introduction of the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975.
It’s not just the employees who have to take responsibility for their actions within the work place it’s also the employers who are potently liable for their employees actions, this is called employers vicarious liability and is there to ensure that employers take reasonable steps to ensure that no sexual discrimination takes place within the workplace.This can be done in a number of ways educating staff on the implications of sexual discrimination most companies will now ask you to watch a video and sign a declaration to say you fully understand what discrimination means to the victim and what will happen to the perpetrator.
Employer’s vicarious liability is also included outside the workplace this can be construed as a works party or a out of hours meeting these are classed as extensions of the workplace, and employers are liable for their employees actions this was proved in the case of Lincolnshire Constabulary v Stubbs and Others (1999) (2), Mrs Stubbs a Detective Sergeant went to a public house twice directly after work and on each occasion Mrs Stubbs was subjected to sexual harassment contrary to the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 the employer was found liable for sexual discrimination.
With the case of Lincolnshire Constabulary v Stubbs and Others (1999) it details the importance of not only adopting the policy but to fully understand it and its implications as its not only damaging for the company’s reputation as most sexual harassment cases will attract media attention but its looks bad for the employees and above all potential employees in the future.
In the unfortunate event that a sexual harassment case has been brought to a tribunal there are certain protocol that has to be followed, at any level of the workplace an accusation of sexual harassment can be damaging to someone’s career if not end it so the facts of the case must be well examined. If an employee believes he or she has a case for sexual harassment they must write a letter to their employer describing and stating the facts they then must wait 28 days for a response this will give the employer time to investigate the allegations and decide whether their is a case of sexual harassment, if sexual harassment has taken place their must be adequate burden of proof.
With all sexual harassment cases there is always the worry of victimisation to the accuser in the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 4(1) (3) this section of the Act protects victims, these can be current workers of the company or former workers who where directly affected or will be giving evidence, the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 4(2) (4) states the sexual harassment accusation was made in good faith and true.
No case of sexual harassment is pleasant whether the allegations are found out to be true or not, in the case if Waters v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis (2000) (5) Lord Hutton said “it is not every course of victimisation or bulling by fellow employees which will give rise to a cause of action against the employer, and the employee may have to accept some degree of unpleasantness from fellow workers. Moreover, the employer will not be liable unless he knows or ought to know that the harassment is taking place and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent it” (5) what Lord Hutton is stating here is that everyone is responsible for their actions there shouldn’t be a employee or employer who are not aware of the Act, even though education is part of the solution to sexual harassment it will never be eradicated.
The Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 has been a long time in the making, if stereotypical work houses and company’s in 1925 was to have implemented equal pay for both sexes we would have evolved a lot faster as a democracy and as a race, but the truth of the matter we didn’t so its up to us as individuals and as company holders to change society’s taboos as the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 will be here to stay it will adapt to modern day society just as fast as we change so for the few company’s out there who don’t adopt the Law the noose will get ever tighter.
1. Roberts v Hopwood (1925) (1)
2. Lincolnshire Constabulary v Stubbs and Others (1999)
3. Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 4(1)
4. Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 4(2)
5. Waters v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis (2000)
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