How should I deal with sexual harassment at work?
Sexual harassment in the workplace is, unfortunately, something that some people will face during their working lives. One in five of calls to the Equal Opportunities helpline are regarding sexual harassment, with 40% of complainants being male, despite the widely perceived perception that women are the usual victims.
So what constitutes sexual harassment and what can you do to resolve the situation?
Under laws introduced in 2005, sexual harassment can no longer be excused as a ‘bit of fun' if it can be interpreted as potentially intimidating, hostile or humiliating which could impact on a person's performance in the workplace.
This could range from comments about an individual's sexual orientation, a pat on the bottom, rude and politically incorrect jokes or the display of pornography, to sexual assault and rape.
Most of us, when faced with harassment, will want it to put an end to it immediately. After all, you spend a large portion of your waking hours at work so it's important to have a harmonious working environment. Here's what you should do.
Firstly, make the instigator of your harassment aware that you are unhappy with their behaviour by confronting them yourself or indirectly via a colleague speaking on your behalf.
Secondly, if the harassment continues thereafter, alert your line manager to the situation and make note of every incident that follows.
Your employer is legally responsible for the behaviour of its workers and most employers consider sexual harassment as a disciplinary offence. It is not surprising, therefore, that most sexual harassment cases are not brought against the perpetrators, but against employers.
If it hasn't already been escalated by your manager, inform your HR department who will have a policy in place to deal with such cases. They will be able to offer support and advise you on the best course of action - even if they are powerless to take effective action themselves, it is an important step should you consider taking a legal case at a later stage.
If you become dissatisfied with your employer's handling of your complaint, you have the right to take the matter to an Employment Tribunal which will decide if your employer dealt with your allegations in a reasonable manner.
Without solid evidence or witness corroboration, it is extremely difficult to prove a case of sexual harassment because it ends up being one person's word against another. The period after the annual Christmas Party season is a notoriously tricky time for sexual harassment cases as alcohol consumption tends to cloud memories of the true events.
Don't forget, in extreme cases, if the harasser physically touches you on an intimate part of your body then you can bypass all of the above and report them directly to the Police for indecent assault.