This Valentine’s Day, workers across the country will be confessing their love to their colleagues in a variety of different ways. Whilst this may be welcomed by some, it may lead others to feel very uncomfortable. This raises issues for employers in ensuring that the workplace remains a safe environment for all.
The Equality Act 2010 prevents harassment of an individual on the grounds of their sex. Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating or hostile environment. Workplace ‘banter’ may be a bit of fun but, where it oversteps the mark or is not welcomed by the recipient, can create problems for all.
Picture the scene; it is Valentines Day and a person thinks it may be funny to leave a card on their colleague’s desk. The card displays an inappropriate sexual image. Instead of seeing the funny side, the colleague feels embarrassed and upset to find this on their desk. Whilst this may have been meant as a joke, this could give rise to a harassment claim under the Equality Act.
An employer can be held liable for acts of discrimination by its staff if they are committed ‘in the course of their employment’. The employer can still be liable even if the purpose of the act was not to cause upset or alarm, and if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from happening. It is therefore important that there are clear anti-discrimination policies in place to help prevent discriminatory behaviour, and that staff are made aware of them. Any complaint of discrimination must be properly investigated and acted upon, especially on a day like today.
If you’ve been caused pain by Cupid’s arrow in the workplace, please feel free to email me or call our Employment Team on 01908 660966.