Men behaving badly

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Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited conduct amounting to discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years, the #MeToo Movement will have come to your attention. 

Starting as a Twitter hashtag in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein harassment and abuse allegations, it spread virally across social media, gathering momentum at a pace and bringing attention to the disturbing reality that the majority of women have at some point in their life been subject to sexual harassment, abuse or violence.

The upshot has been a profound and rapid change in attitudes towards the type of behaviour you describe at the event, to the extent that misogynistic sexist behaviour is quickly becoming as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving.  Unfortunately there are certain men who have yet to catch on and some industries are lagging behind others due to the continuing dominance of an old boy’s network and this arguably applies to the car industry, which is unarguably male dominated.  

A recent investigation into the British Medical Association after allegations of sexual harassment and sexism found that women were undermined, excluded, patronised, ignored and often harassed.  The investigation reported that an “excessive consumption of alcohol” at conferences was said to trigger incidents of sexual harassment.  The report went on to say:  “This includes being touched inappropriately, lewd and inappropriate sexual remarks directed to, or made about women, invitations or even instructions to accompany a male doctor to his hotel room, staring at a woman’s breasts, inappropriate comments about a woman’s appearance, and being kissed or hugged.”

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited conduct amounting to discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and an employer can be held responsible.  It is an employers duty to ensure their staff do not engage in such conduct and this includes harassment against agency workers for example at a conference or event.  

Much has been written on the behaviour of employees at event’s where they are representing their company, especially where there is alcohol involved, and issues arising from such behaviour have been the subject of numerous tribunal hearings.  It has been reported that following #MeToo and the removal of employment tribunal fees, there has been a 69 per cent increase in sex discrimination claims.  It is important therefore that employers ensure employees are fully informed on what is not acceptable behaviour.  It can be a defence for a business if they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from the behaviour which instigated the complaint.  

Steps could be; training for those who haven’t done any equality training in a while, an updated, clear workplace policy on alcohol consumption, clear policy on expected levels of behaviour and the fostering of a culture of ‘calling out’ sexism and misogyny when it happens.  If you create a work environment where the message is that such behaviour is no longer being ignored, not just by the women it happens to but by those who witness it.  The days of sweeping the sexist treatment of women under the carpet are numbered and an organisation who can’t keep up with the times will have trouble going forward in recruiting and retaining talent if they can’t foster an environment where young people want to work. 

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Polly DaviesLegal AdvisorRead More by this author

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