Offices can be stressful places and people sometimes want to lighten the mood with jokes and messing about. Often this can be a relief or at worst be a bit irritating. However, sometimes this can go too far and be seen as harassment. This is potentially tricky and begs the question at what point does “banter” go too far and actually become harassment?

The facts

The Equality Act was introduced in 2010 to ensure fair treatment for people in the Workplace. However, with more than half of women polled in a recent TUC survey claiming they had experienced sexual harassment in their career, it seems that this is still a prevalent issue.

Essentially there are three main potential claims:

  1. Environment: This is where someone feels that the working environment is being affected by sexual discrimination for example someone commenting on an employee if they have to leave early to pick up children or making comments that make them feel uncomfortable.
  2. Unwanted conduct: This covers violations of personal space such as inappropriate touching, lewd gestures or language.
  3. Personal discrimination: If a person turns down a date or a relationship with a work colleague then they could retaliate by refusing to promote or actively discriminate that colleague.

It should also be said that claims don’t need to be limited to the victim, a person can bring up a case if they feel that a colleague is being subjected to harassment or feel that the working environment is being negatively affected.

What to do about it

There are a few steps that employers can do to ensure that harassment in the workplace doesn’t take place or if it does to clamp down on it as soon as possible:

  • Don’t dismiss it – anyone who perpetrates this will often try to say it was “just a joke.” You need to be clear that even if they feel it was meant in fun another person may not see it that way.
  • Have the right training in place – having a clear strategy and complaints procedure will make it easier for people to report complaints but also to make clear that your company is proactive in dealing with these issues.
  • Enforce the policy – a claim should be looked into as quickly as possible and dealt with seriously. With the rise of social media your company’s reputation could be badly hit if any situation is not properly dealt with.

If you feel you have been harassed

It is important that people feel that they can discuss a situation without feeling like they will be judged or their career will suffer if they speak out. At Larcomes we have specialist legal representatives that can go over this with you and give you an idea of what the next step should be.

Ideally, it should not come to a tribunal but we are here to support you if this is what you have to do. For more information or to discuss your personal circumstances in more detail please contact us today.