The growing publicity surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace
Hardly a day goes by at the moment where we don’t read or hear something in the news about some form of sex discrimination in the workplace. Although this is an issue which has always existed it is now more widely publicised with allegations against various high profile public figures now coming to light.
Sexual discrimination exists in the workplace when an employee is treated badly and unfairly purely on the basis of their sex. This is unlawful in terms of the Equality Act 2010. Sexual discrimination can come in all different forms. It could come in the form of unequal pay. This has been in the news recently when the BBC published the wages of their employees, with female employees’ male counterparts being paid significantly more, leading to the resignation of Carrie Grace as BBC’s China Editor and several male presenters accepting wage cuts.
Sexual discrimination can also come in the form of bullying in the workplace, victimisation or harassment. This has appeared in the news frequently following the likes of sexual harassment allegations amongst MPs arising in Westminster last year and the Harvey Weinstein scandal emerging with a large number of women (including a string of A-list actresses) coming forward to say they were sexually harassed or assaulted by the film producer whilst working with him.
The allegations arising in Westminster pointed out numerous inadequacies within Parliament including the fact there was no independent HR department, no proper grievance procedure and there were no real consequences for those who had stepped out of line. This has resulted in the cross party report announced in Parliament at the beginning of this month, stating urgent reform is needed to tackle a culture of harassment and bullying at Westminster. Among the recommendations are a new complaints procedure and an investigation mechanism independent of parties, with tougher sanctions proposed for those found to be in breach of the newly proposed code of conduct.
Whilst most of our workplaces are not subject to the intense public and media scrutiny that the likes of Westminster, the BBC or Hollywood will be under, that is not to say that sexual harassment does not exist elsewhere and the media frenzy surrounding these recent reports has encouraged others to speak up and share their own stories of sexual harassment in (or indeed out of) the workplace with the #metoo campaign.
Despite sexual harassment taking place in some workplaces, it may go unnoticed if employees are afraid to report it and there are insufficient protection measures in place.
With these stories hitting the headlines, employers should really be looking at their own internal policies and asking themselves the question of whether they are doing enough to protect against sexual harassment in the workplace.