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: Sexual harassment is only meted out by men against women.

Fact: Sexual harassment is commonly seen as resulting from a man’s inappropriate actions / comments towards a woman, but it can happen the other way round and individuals can also be harassed by someone of the same sex.

In Basile v Royal College of General Practitioners & Ors, a man was found to have sexually harassed another man with sexual comments and gestures, not all of which were directed at him.

In Nolan v CD Bramall Dealership Ltd t/a Evans Halshaw Motorhouse Worksop, the male claimant was found to have been the victim of harassment / discrimination on account of “banter” relating to his age, including colleagues nicknaming him “Yoda”.

Similarly, in Roberts v Cash Zone (Camberley) Ltd & Another, a manager’s use of the words “teenager” and “kid” were found to amounted to harassment in the context of an age discrimination case brought by a young male worker.

In Otomewo v Carphone Warehouse Ltd, a heterosexual male manager was found to have been harassed / discriminated against on the grounds of his sexual orientation when two male subordinates used his mobile phone to post the comment “I am gay and proud” on his Facebook page…even though they knew he was not gay.

Earlier this year, a Senior financial consultant was found to have been the victim of direct sex discrimination when his female manager told him that if he banked £180,000, he would be rewarded with a sexual favour.

In terms of the disparity between men and women reporting sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be solely down to men being the main perpetrators, or the oft-touted belief that women are more sensitive / easily offended than men. It may also be because men are more reluctant to say anything for fear of losing face or not being taken seriously, both factors being the possible result of gender-based stereotyping.

The most effective way for employers to challenge ill-founded preconceptions around who can harass who is to have a regularly updated policy which defines harassment and provides examples of it. This should be regularly updated and clearly communicated through company-wide training.
Look out for our next post, which will deal with the role perceptions play in determining whether harassment has taken place.