The Family Business - Spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace


15 March 2019

There has been extensive media coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the allegations levelled at Sir Philip Green, and the high-profile #MeToo movement, shining a light on sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Whatever the size of the business, employers must takes steps to prevent it.

Sexual harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment.” The employees at Ted Baker have accused their boss, Ray Kelvin, of this type of misconduct using an online petition, including ‘forced hugging’ and asking ‘members of staff to sit on his knee, cuddle him, or let him massage their ears.’ 

Employers need to be aware of these types of behaviour, because they are liable for the actions of their employees. They must uphold their duty of care to employees by showing that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the behaviour of which the victims are complaining.

Workers have more limited rights but are also protected from being subjected to less favourable treatment for submitting to or rejecting sexual harassment.

During spring 2018, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a report, Turning the tables: ending sexual harassment at work, recommending changes to the law to better protect employees. Respondents to the EHRC’s online ‘call for evidence’ claimed they had not reported their experiences due to the lack of appropriate workplace procedures and lack of support.
The key recommendations include a mandatory legal duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, a statutory code of practice on preventing sexual harassment, and publication of employers’ sexual harassment policies online.

In July 2018 the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee published a report and a five step guide to addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. The Government agreed that a statutory code of practice should be introduced – and in particular that non-disclosure agreements should be better regulated so that victims are not gagged from disclosing allegations of past sexual harassment.  

It is crucial to ensure that the right culture is fostered by the leadership team and the managers lead by example. Setting the right culture is something that family owned businesses are good at, and they should expand on this to create and communicate good policies.

For further information, please contact Jennifer Leeder or a member of our Employment Team.

This article is from the March 2019 edition of The Family Business, our newsletter for those working within family-owned businesses. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at March 2019.

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