Sexual Harassment is defined in the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 as “unwanted conduct” that is sexual in nature and effectively violates the victim’s dignity or “creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”
The definition is extremely wide, and it is not necessary to prove that the conduct was intentional. For this reason, it is vital that a zero-tolerance culture exists and that it is explained clearly to all employees the sorts of behaviours that are unacceptable. An act which one person may deem to be insignificant could be considered by an Employment Tribunal to be harassment. The following behaviours can amount to sexual harassment but this list is not exhaustive:-
Written or verbal comments of a sexual nature such as remarks/ questions/ jokes about a colleague's appearance or sex life
Sending or forwarding on emails that contains content of a sexual nature
Displaying pornographic or explicit images
Unwanted physical contact and touching
Employers owe a duty of care to their employees and may ultimately be held liable for harassment. They should not only ensure that adequate policies are in place to prevent such incidents but also to deal with them when they arise, in a manner that is sufficiently serious, confidential and allows the complainant to be treated with dignity and respect.
Employees should seek legal advice as soon as possible and note that the time limit for bringing a case to a Tribunal is usually 3 months from the date the discriminatory act took place.
Any employee or employer concerned about sexual harassment issues should contact Laura Banks at Francis Hanna on 02890243901 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free, no obligation discussion.