Claims of harassment, be they current or historical, are everywhere at the moment. Regardless of your view on the legitimacy of some of these, what is undeniable is that employers can’t continue to make allowances for the types of conduct that are being reported without risking significant legal exposure.

To assist employers in identifying the behaviours that could give rise to valid discrimination complaints, we’ve produced a series of “myth busters” to help separate fact from fiction, all of which will be published on this website in the next few days.

Of course, if you’re an employer and would like to discuss any of the issues touched on in these posts, please contact one of our HR consultants in confidence and without delay for some initial advice free of charge and without obligation.

Myth: Only the person towards whom the action / comments are directed can bring a sexual harassment claim.

Fact: Even though the offending comments or actions are not directed at an individual, that individual can still bring a claim for sexual harassment.

This is because of the definition of harassment contained in the Equality Act 2010, which is as follows…

 

‘…unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.’

 

Therefore, an individual does not need to possess the protected characteristic complained of. Rather, the conduct just needs to relate to a protected characteristic and have one of the aforementioned effects. For example, a heterosexual employee who witnesses a colleague teasing another colleague about being homosexual could bring a complaint of harassment if that conduct could reasonably be considered as having the effect of violating the complainant’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him.

Look out for our final post tomorrow, which will deal with suspension in the context of sexual harassment allegations.