As a survey that Slater and Gordon commissioned recently revealed half of women had been sexually harassed in the workplace, it’s no wonder we receive so many queries regarding the subject.
That’s why we decided to answer a few of the most common questions we receive:
My boss always comments on my hair or what I’m wearing. I’m sure it’s meant as a compliment but I feel uncomfortable about it. What can I do?
Regardless of whether the comments are complimentary or not, if you feel like the conduct is sexual in nature or related to sex – and commenting on your appearance can be – you have grounds to make a complaint. If you feel that your boss has created a degrading environment, even if it’s veiled in a compliment, you should raise this with someone.
Would you feel at ease bringing the subject up with your boss? Sometimes, just telling the person their behaviour is making you feel uncomfortable is enough to stop it.
If you’re not able to confront your boss, speak to HR. Put it in writing and keep a copy as it is important to have a record in case you are treated unfavourably in future.
What can you do if you’re being sexually harassed but you work for a small firm with no HR department?
If you don’t feel comfortable raising it with the person responsible, could you speak to your manager, or a more senior manager if it is your boss who is sexually harassing you? If so, my advice would be the same as it would if you went to HR - put it in writing and keep a copy.
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 anti-bullying and harassment policy.
If you’re a member of a trade union, you could also speak to one of their representatives. They can offer you advice and you may be able to remain anonymous if you prefer.
If you’ve done all this and are not satisfied with the outcome, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal.
I’d suggest taking legal advice as early as possible, even if you don’t intend to pursue a claim as the time limits for legal action are very short.
My boss is harassing me and behaving inappropriately but it mainly happens outside of the office, at the pub or on work trips. Do I still have grounds to make a complaint?
Whether the harassment takes place in the office or not makes no difference. Your manager is still abusing their power.
The definition of sexual harassment at work under UK law says that 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. You’re not limited to the harassment taking place in the work environment.
Keep a diary of incidents and make it as detailed as possible. State where you were when it happened and who witnessed it and speak to HR.
I’m male and have made a complaint of sexual harassment about an older female employee but it was brushed off by HR. Off the record, I was told I should be flattered and it would be silly to take the matter any further. What can I do?
This is disgraceful. You should not have been made to feel that you were overreacting. The law against sexual harassment applies equally to men as to women. If HR are not prepared to take your complaint seriously then you could seek advice from your trade union if you are a member or speak to a legal professional.
My boss has started texting and making comments on social media which are making me feel uncomfortable. He behaves fine in the office but I find his remarks on text quite inappropriate. Is there anything I can do about this?
With the increase in mobile technology use, more and more interactions with our colleagues are happening outside of the office and it is vital staff members are kept safe. Many people think they’re exempt from the law when using their personal social media accounts but they’re not. There have been many cases that have proved that we have to behave appropriately even when using our private Facebook accounts. If, for example, your boss mentions his workplace in his personal details online or likes and shares a lot of his company’s social media posts, he links himself to his work even more so and it’s likely your company would be even less pleased with the way he’s conducting himself online.
Your employer may also have a social media policy/ acceptable use policy so it’s worth consulting this to see if there is any support or guidance. It would also be worth pointing out if the company has a policy but doesn’t apply it.
Take screen shots of the remarks and speak to somebody whether it’s your boss, an employee from HR or a union representative. You certainly have the right to complain about your boss’s behaviour.
I’ve witnessed a colleague being sexually harassed. What can I do about it?
People can find it very difficult to talk about sexual harassment so it’s important they know that you’re there to listen and support them, if they choose to confide in you. If you see somebody being sexually harassed, gently suggest to them that they raise it with someone else, depending on the situation. If they don’t, the risk is it may carry on and happen to other people. If they choose not to report it but you are still concerned by what you are witnessing, speak in confidence to somebody from HR. You probably have a duty to report what you’ve seen.
Remember that if you support a colleague who is being harassed you are entitled to protection under the Equality Act as well. Under this, there are ‘protected acts’ which entitle you to protection from victimisation.
Juliette Franklin is an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cardiff.