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Sexual harassment in the agile workplace

View profile for Charlotte Brain
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As more and more people are now working remotely, with colleagues communicating via electronic platforms, it is important that employees and employers be aware of conduct which could still be deemed to amount to harassment, despite the fact that it has not taken place face to face or involved any physical act.

The law

The law protects you where you hold a protected characteristic and you are subjected to unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity, or otherwise creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and/or offensive environment for you. It follows that where this conduct relates to your sex, you could have a claim for sexual harassment, and you can potentially take action in the employment tribunal, where the conduct has taken place in the workplace.

The conduct

Any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or which relates to a person’s sex can constitute harassment under the Equality Act 2010, if it has the purpose or effect described, above.

An act can also amount to sexual harassment if an employee rejects the conduct and is treated less favourably, as a result.

Unwanted conduct does not necessarily need to take place in any prescribed way, such as in a face to face setting. It can take place by way of comments made through written communications, including over communication platforms and/or emails.

When considering whether conduct amounts to harassment, a court / tribunal will take into account the perception of the person who has been subjected to the conduct. Arguably, communications may be more easily misinterpreted when sent electronically, than they would be face to face, so it is imperative that care is taken in this regard.

Although many employees / employers have attempted to justify their behaviour as ‘banter’, it is important to note that such conduct cannot be justified if it is considered by those subjected to it as degrading or humiliating. It is therefore important to consider the impact that such remarks may have on another person.

It is imperative that employees remain professional throughout their communications even when they may be working from home or outside of their usual workplace.

An employer may be at risk, should their employee engage in such unwanted conduct, because, under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, an employer will be liable for anything done by a person in the course of their employment.

If you believe that you may have been subjected to sexual harassment, whether this be whilst working remotely or otherwise, you may be able to bring a claim for discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.

However there are strict time limits within which courts / tribunals will accept such claims. If you believe that you may have been subjected to discrimination, please contact our specialist discrimination solicitors, without delay, for further advice on 0161 696 6170.