Today we are looking at how The High Court have clarified the law in relation to sexual harassment in the workplace in a recent judgment that was appealed to them by the police misconduct tribunal.
PC England was a police officer for Dyfed-Powys Police in Wales. Over a period of roughly half a year, it was alleged that he made a series of remarks that amounted to sexual harassment.
These included remarks such as telling a male and female colleague that he “always made time for wanking” and whilst on duty with a male colleague, telling him (in relation to a woman standing on the street) that he would “fuck her and suck the juice out of her pussy.” This culminated in him putting his hand down the back of a female colleague’s shirt whilst on duty at a hospital, without her permission. He then followed up this gesture by saying “you never know, I’d probably be able to get it down your neck”. The tribunal also found that on the same shift he said he had put tissues in his pocket, as otherwise the nurses would think he was “having a wank”.
Shockingly, the tribunal found that although these incidents were inappropriate and crass, they were not sexual and therefore did not amount to sexual misconduct.
What Does the Law Say?
The law on sexual harassment is very clear. The Equality Act 2010 states that a person sexually harasses another if they “engage in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, and the conduct has the effect or purpose of violating the other’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment.”
What did the High Court Find?
The High Court found that the tribunal’s decision was irrational. Mr. Justice Nicklin, in putting the decision back to a differently constituted tribunal to be re-decided, said the suggestion that Mr. England’s behaviour was not of a sexual nature was perverse, and that this decision stemmed from a failure by the tribunal to consider each statement as part of a chain, which when considered together could constitute sexual harassment.
Sometimes, you must call a spade a spade. If something appears to be of a sexual nature, it most likely is. There can be little reasonable doubt that Mr. England’s comments transcended mere humour and instead took on the form of unwanted sexual conduct, prohibited in the workplace.