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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – It’s Vital You Take Action immediately

Film mogul Harvey Weinstein has apologised for the way he behaved with past colleagues after a report emerged about alleged incidents of sexual harassment.

Weinstein, who helped produce blockbusters including ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Good Will Hunting’, has apparently reached private settlements with at least eight women in relation to accusations about sexual misconduct.

A report, published by the New York Times, alleged he had created a toxic working environment through inappropriate sexual advances. Claimants alleged his behaviour often fitted a pattern. A young woman would be told to meet him at a luxury hotel for business purposes where he would then make sexual advances. Eight women said he had greeted them in the nude, or asked for a massage or to watch him shower.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment often isn’t as blatant as this and some people struggle to establish if they have grounds to make a complaint.

But the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment at work under UK law is pretty clear in the Equality Act. If the conduct is sexual in nature and a person feels the behaviour has violated their dignity or created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, they have the basis for a claim.

Harassment can also come from a manager making a pass at an employee, them rejecting the pass and then being unfairly passed over for a promotion or subjected to other unfavourable treatment.  Many people are not aware that protection under UK law also extends to somebody who submits to the advance and is treated less favourably as a result of that.

What should I do if I’m being sexually harassed?

The first thing I’d advise a client to do is tell the person their behaviour is making them uncomfortable, if the client feels able to do so. This is sometimes enough to stop it. 

If this doesn’t work, tell your manager or HR. I would suggest putting this in writing and keeping a copy as it is important to have a record in case you are treated unfavourably in future. 

Keep a diary recording the harassment too – add as much detail as you can such as when it happens and who witnessed it.

Speak to your trade union too. They can offer you advice and you may be able to remain anonymous if you prefer.

You can also make a formal complaint. All employers are required to have a grievance procedure where you can set out in writing the details of the harassment and how it made you feel.  They may also have a specific bullying and harassment policy. 

If you’ve done all this and are not satisfied with the outcome, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Before doing this you have to go through an early conciliation process provided by mediation group Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). They may be able to negotiate a settlement or practical solution.

Claims can be made by all workers and must be made within three months of the act of harassment. A person can bring a claim against both their employer and the perpetrator.

This can be a difficult situation to navigate on your own and it is usually helpful to seek specialist legal advice to assist. 

James Watkins is an employment solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cardiff.

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