Business Law: Andrew West explains why employers need to protect their people against harassment

Andrew West of Gotelee Solicitors.

Andrew West of Gotelee Solicitors. - Credit: Gotelee Solicitors

Allegations of sexual misconduct have dominated the news agenda in recent weeks. The behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and a dossier of British MPs has highlighted the dangers that follow when a culture of harassment is allowed to develop in the workplace.

And with the likelihood of further revelations, the scandal should serve as a stark reminder to businesses and organisations to ensure that they have clear policies in place to protect staff.

Figures from a recent ComRes poll found that more than half of all British women and a fifth of all men had experienced sexual harassment. The research, commissioned by the BBC, showed that many of those could not face making a complaint, with 63% of women and 79% of men opting against taking action.

Harassment may come in many forms including unwelcome sexual advances, whether by touching, standing too close, asking for sexual favours or displaying offensive materials. Employees are protected in by the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful for an employer to allow any employee, or job applicant, to be subject to workplace harassment.

Resources published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and conciliation service ACAS recommend that every business has a written policy, setting out how harassment at work is unlawful and making sure all staff understand that such behaviour will not be tolerated and may be treated as a disciplinary offence.

Providing examples of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour is an effective way of educating and protecting staff. Training can also play an important role, particularly if you have concerns about a deep-rooted culture that needs to be changed within your organisation.

Most importantly, businesses must provide a clear process for what steps will be taken if anyone feels they have been subjected to any form of harassment. With research showing it is usually a junior member of staff experiencing the harassment, management should demonstrate that everyone has zero tolerance to inappropriate behaviour.

Andrew West is an employment law specialist at Gotelee Solicitors which has offices in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe, Woodbridge or Melton. If you would like advice on how to ensure a safe and secure workplace with clear policies and training for staff, email or call Gotelee Solicitors on 01473 298126. For further details, visit