Pub ban­ter can be sex ha­rass­ment, equal­ity watch­dog warns busi­nesses

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Hay­ley Dixon

BUSI­NESSES must tell their staff that “pub ban­ter” and so­cial me­dia posts can amount to sex­ual ha­rass­ment, the equal­ity watch­dog warns to­day, as it is­sues a let­ter to 400 ma­jor firms.

Re­becca Hilsen­rath, who chairs the Equal­ity and Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, has writ­ten to more than 400 em­ploy­ers warn­ing them that they need to “step up ac­tion against bad be­hav­iour” as new guid­ance is pub­lished on tack­ling sex­ual ha­rass­ment. It comes af­ter The Daily Tele­graph dis­closed that Sir Philip Green, the owner of Topshop, paid six-fig­ure sums to si­lence al­le­ga­tions from his staff of grop­ing and in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments in Bri­tain’s own Metoo scan­dal.

In tak­ing the un­usual step of writ­ing to CEOS di­rectly, Ms Hilsen­rath noted: “Re­cent high-pro­file cases have shone an im­por­tant light on the con­tin­ued ha­rass­ment many women face in the work­place and showed that we still need to do more to mod­ernise work­ing cul­tures.”

The let­ter, seen by The Tele­graph, points to new tech­ni­cal guid­ance which the watch­dog ex­pects “will be­come statu­tory guid­ance en­force­able by law”.

Re­search has found that three quar­ters of work­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and the Metoo scan­dal shows it “is per­va­sive in con­texts as di­verse as Hol­ly­wood and West­min­ster”, the watch­dog says as it warns that ev­i­dence of the need for “tougher ac­tion” is now “over­whelm­ing”.

Em­ploy­ers are ad­vised to take seven steps: de­velop an ef­fec­tive anti-ha­rass­ment pol­icy, en­gage staff, re­duce risks, make re­port­ing sim­ple, pro­vide train­ing, act im­me­di­ately when a com­plaint is made, and take steps to pro­tect staff from ha­rass­ment by a third party such as a cus­tomer.

The guid­ance can be used as ev­i­dence in an em­ploy­ment tri­bunal and it is hoped it will be­come a statu­tory code of prac­tice when the Govern­ment an­nounces the re­sults of its con­sul­ta­tion into the ex­ist­ing laws.

As part of an anti-ha­rass­ment pol­icy, em­ploy­ers will be ex­pected to make their work­ers aware of the law and to pro­vide def­i­ni­tions and clear ex­am­ples.

A good pol­icy will tell work­ers that ha­rass­ment could lead to dis­ci­plinary ac­tion and the prospect of them los­ing their job if it takes place “in any sit­u­a­tion re­lated to work, such as a so­cial

event with col­leagues” and against a col­league out­side a work sit­u­a­tion “in­clud­ing on so­cial me­dia”, the Equal­ity and Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion ad­vises.

Em­ploy­ees must be told that “ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tors, such as abuse of power over a more ju­nior col­league”, will be taken into ac­count.

Com­pa­nies are re­minded that they are re­spon­si­ble for any ac­tion which falls “within the course of em­ploy­ments”, such as drinks in the pub af­ter work or leav­ing par­ties. Bosses are also be­ing re­minded that what is seen as “ban­ter” by one worker may be con­strued as un­ac­cept­able by an­other – and con­duct can amount to ha­rass­ment, “even if that is not how it was in­tended”.

“Un­wanted con­duct” amount­ing to ha­rass­ment can in­clude posts or con­tact on so­cial me­dia, fa­cial ex­pres­sions, ban­ter, mimicry and jokes or pranks. Sex­ual ha­rass­ment is said to in­clude propo­si­tions, “sug­ges­tive looks, star­ing or leer­ing”, prom­ises in re­turn for sex­ual favours and spread­ing ru­mours or ask­ing ques­tions about a per­son’s sex life, as well as un­wel­come touch­ing, hug­ging, mas­sag­ing or kiss­ing.

Ms Hilsen­rath said that “no form of ha­rass­ment can ever be justified” and for too long it has been down to the vic­tim to chal­lenge such be­hav­iour when the bur­den should ac­tu­ally be on the em­ployer. “It’s been two years since Metoo forced sex­ual ha­rass­ment to the top of the agenda,” she said. “We’ve seen some em­ploy­ers wake up, take this on board and start to make the dif­fer­ences but we need oth­ers to fol­low suit. The is­sue is not go­ing to go away.” ♦ Sex­ist al­go­rithms are ig­nor­ing women’s voices and deny­ing them jobs, the Cul­ture Sec­re­tary has said as it emerged fewer a quar­ter of UK tech jobs were held by women.

Baroness Mor­gan of Cotes said the lack of fe­males at tech firms meant de­vices and ser­vices were be­ing de­signed by men for men, with “gen­der in­equal­ity em­bed­ded”.

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