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Harassment can blight the lives of workers and wreck their careers. It can also land employers in hot water because they are responsible for ensuring workers do not face harassment: they must take reasonable steps to protect their workers – or be liable for the harassment

No workplace is immune to harassment. Sadly many reports of harassment are met with threats to the victim, disciplinary hearings and dismissals, comments that they are “over sensitive”. And did you know that something can amount to harassment even if that’s not what was intended?

A new guide “Sexual harassment and harassment at work” has been issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – a PDF can be downloaded from their site. This sets out how to prevent harassment: effective policies and procedures are required and these should be monitored, and their success regularly reviewed; there should be different policies to deal with sexual harassment, and the other forms of harassment.

Three types of harassment are unlawful:

Harassing somebody because of pregnancy or maternity is harassment related to sex.

#MeToo has highlighted that sexual harassment is rife; the Equality and Human Rights Commission finds that LGBT workers face harassment at work, as do seventy percent of Asian and Black workers. Harassment also arises from Islamophobia and antisemitism, and is widespread when it relates to age and disability.

Who’s to blame? Most commonly, senior colleagues. But it can also be customers, clients or service users. Employers must ensure all workers are aware of anti-harassment policies; policies should be shared widely both within the workplace and other organisations that supply workers and services.

Employers should not assume the number of complaints of harassment made is an accurate reflection of the level of harassment. Instead they should be aware of what is happening in the workplace: sickness absences, behavioural changes, comments in exit interviews, avoidance of a certain colleague – these can be signs of harassment.

This information does not provide a full statement of the law and you are advised to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained in this article.

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