The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has issued new guidance on sexual harassment and harassment at work. It replaces the previous guidance published in December 2017.

The updated guidance reflects some of the findings following the EHRC’s report “Turning the Tables” in March 2018. This report shares evidence about sexual harassment in the workplace gathered from individuals and employers. It makes recommendations about how to stop sexual harassment at work. The report includes employees’ experiences, what employers said, and EHRC’s recommendations.

Under the Equality Act 2010, harassment due to any of the protected characteristics is unlawful. The protected characteristics are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating an employee’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Points for employers to be mindful of are:

  • A one-off incident can amount to harassment.

  • The victim need not have made the perpetrator aware that the conduct was unwanted.

  • Conduct can amount to harassment if it is related to a protected characteristic. This can cover, for example:

    • conduct that, regardless of the form it takes, is by reason of a protected characteristic (for example, shunning a co-worker because he is gay; because he is perceived to be gay; or because somebody else is gay); and

    • conduct that is otherwise related to a protected characteristic because of the form it takes(for example, engaging in racist or homophobic banter that might offend colleagues regardless of their race or sexual orientation).

  • The Equality Act protects a victim against harassment based on someone else’s protected characteristic (associative harassment), or based on the perception that the victim has a protected characteristic.

  • To amount to harassment, the conduct must have the purpose or effect of violating the victim’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim. Where the victim claims that the conduct had this effect (although this was not the conduct’s purpose), the Tribunal must consider whether it was reasonable for the conduct to have that effect

The new EHRC guidance offers a legal explanation and practical examples of how employers can tackle and respond effectively to harassment, including:

  • definition and examples of harassment and victimisation

  • the effect of harassment in the workplace

  • your responsibilities as an employer

  • how to prevent and respond to harassment

If you require any legal advice, please contact Farleys’ employment law team on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online contact form.