Yesterday we set out four simple steps for every business to follow to address sexual harassment in the workplace. Click here if you missed yesterday’s post - Part 2, or Monday’s post on the background – Part 1.
Today we’ll be looking at why it is so important to take those four steps. Primarily this is obviously the right thing to do to protect your staff. Practically it is also likely to foster a more cohesive working environment, reduce staff turnover, and help avoid the reputational fall out from bad publicity. But legally, it can also help the business avoid liability for sexual harassment claims.
If an employee commits sexual harassment against a colleague, then the colleague would have a claim against the employee in his/her personal capacity. However, if the sexual harassment is committed in the course of his/her employment then the colleague who has been harassed can also bring a claim against the business on the basis that it is ‘vicariously liable’ for acts of its employees. This applies regardless of whether the employee’s acts were done with the employer’s knowledge or approval.
There is a defence to vicarious liability; that the business took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the sexual harassment from occurring. As such, having robust policies in place, ensuring employees are aware of your policies, training your managerial staff in relation to sexual harassment and how to address it, and taking swift decisive action when allegations (or even rumours) of sexual harassment come to light canmake it easier for the business to defend a claim against it. Ignore this at your peril as compensation for sexual harassment claims is uncapped.
Check out our post tomorrow for what you need to bear in mind if you are settling a sexual harassment claim.