As the Harvey Weinstein scandal continues to build, dozens of women in the film industry have now come forward with allegations ranging from sexual harassment to rape. At first, media outlets appeared to suggest this was a problem specific to Hollywood – the ‘casting couch’ in action. But now, as the first reports of sexual harassment in Westminster are surfacing, the conversation has rightly widened.
Beyond the casting couch
Sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue that every industry must face up to. And, as these cases show, victims can range from frontline workers to those at leadership level.
In a 2016 sexual harassment case, Mrs Marks, former HR Director of Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, was awarded more than £830,000 in compensation by an Employment Tribunal. Mrs Marks was constructively dismissed after she rejected sexual advances from the Chairman of the Trust, Mr Baines.
Although the pair were initially friends, the friendship soured after Mr Baines showed a sexual interest in Mrs Marks. He began leaving love letters on her desk and sending abusive text messages, including one where he called her a ‘whore’. In another incident, he accused her of having an affair with a colleague. Mrs Marks resigned and brought successful claims of constructive dismissal and sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, against the Trust.
In another well-known case, two saleswomen at luxury shoe shop Barker Shoes in Regent Street, London, won their Employment Tribunal case. Mehrnoosh Bolhasani and Agnese Avota told how their boss, Boualem Guerbi, called female workers ‘eye candy’, and froze out women who rejected his sexual advances, humiliating them in front of colleagues. Miss Bolhasani said, ‘If you rejected his ways … you would feel like your life was hell. I was really scared.’ Both women’s complaints of sex discrimination and harassment were upheld in a judgment released in 2016.
What can employers do?
We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of sexual harassment reports, and we expect to see many more complaints in the news over the coming weeks and months. But what can companies do to protect their staff – and their reputation as an employer?
Under UK employment law, harassment (sexual or otherwise) is a form of discrimination, which means employers must take it as seriously as any other kind of discrimination. We of course recommend writing an anti-harassment policy into your employee handbook. But it’s also important to educate employees on that policy, making it clear what standard of behaviour you expect and the consequences of violating the policy. Crucially, you must also take any allegations of sexual harassment seriously from the first time they are aired, conduct a thorough investigation and seek legal advice to ensure you are handling the investigation appropriately.
Whether you are an employee with a complaint, or an employer looking to safeguard your staff, Springhouse Solicitors is here to help. Talk to us and get expert legal advice on the best way forward for you.