Attitudes towards sexual harassment have significantly evolved over the past two years. Slowly but surely, victims of harassment feel able to call out the treatment they were subjected to and employers are better equipped at preventing, investigating and responding to such complaints.
Before #MeToo was a hashtag movement, actress and activist Emma Watson has long been campaigning for a host of women’s rights issues. Last month saw her donate towards and promote a free advice line, Rights of Women, for victims of sexual harassment.
The service is provided by several women’s rights charities, including the Time’s Up UK Justice and Equality Fund, and is to be run by volunteer employment lawyers who will advise callers on how best to pursue the matter.
The timing of the helpline launch coincides with some recent employment tribunal judgments on sexual harassment claims. These are non-binding first tier cases but do provide insight into the way the judiciary approaches such cases.
In Prewett v Greene King Services Limited, the Claimant succeeded in a sexual harassment claim after her managers engaged in “poor taste humour” by making sexual innuendos. The comments related to the northern slang word Growler, which purportedly means both a pork pie and vagina.
The Employment Tribunal found that despite there being no malicious intent, the conduct was still unwanted and made the Claimant feel uncomfortable when she had important work to do. The Claimant was awarded £5,000 in injury to feelings.
In Shotton v Mark Harris Upholstery Ltd, the Claimant and her harasser had initially had a reciprocal attraction after the Claimant flirted with the Respondent’s owner at an office party. However, the Respondent began inappropriately touching the Claimant, sniffing her hair, sitting her on his knee and asking for sexual favours.
The Claimant tried to assert that she was not interested in such a relationship, but the Respondent continued with the conduct, at one point asking to “Harvey Weinstein her arse”. The Claimant was awarded £37,500.00 for injury to feeling.
In both cases it is worth noting that the harassers had managerial authority over the Claimants. This compromises the victim as they may feel they cannot initially say no to the conduct for fear of reprimand. However, both cases suggest that initially acquiescence to harassment does not mean it is consented to.
Following on from his previous book, A Practical Guide To Redundancy, Phil Hyland will be releasing another book on the issue of harassment and bullying next year. If you would be interested to find out more about this please click here.