With the Christmas party season in full swing, the relaxed social atmosphere and high levels of alcohol consumption can coincide with unusual and unwanted behaviour and actions.
Ranging from invasive questions and jokes to abrasive, aggressive behaviour, research shows that post-party sexual harassment and discrimination complaints spike during the Christmas period. How can employers take reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate conduct?
Establishing a robust infrastructure to prevent discrimination and harassment. This involves not only having anti-discrimination and harassment policies but also modeling appropriate behaviours and fostering a positive workplace culture from the top down.
Ensuring all employees are well-informed about company policies through comprehensive induction and refresher training. Any policy amendments should be clearly communicated to all employees.
Creating a safe space where employees feel comfortable speaking out. Prompt and appropriate investigation steps should be taken for each complaint, and if necessary, disciplinary action should be enforced.
Clearly stating in sexual harassment or discrimination policies that the relevant conduct is not only against the law but is also deemed unacceptable behavior by the employer.
Prior to a Christmas party, employers can send a simple email to all employees, gently reminding them of appropriate behavior and directing their attention to the company’s policies and procedures. Employees should remember that a party is an extension of the workplace and if the behaviour in question would not be appropriate in the office, it likely will not be appropriate at the Christmas party either.
The new Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 introduces an additional mandatory obligation on employers to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment of their employees at work. The Act is scheduled to come into force in October 2024, one year after its passage.
In Great Britain, the Equality Act 2010 already prohibits: (i) harassment related to a protected characteristic, (ii) sexual harassment, and (iii) less favorable treatment because an employee submits to or rejects unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or conduct related to sex or gender reassignment.
Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. It has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for them. Something can still be considered sexual harassment even if the alleged harasser didn’t mean for it to be. It also doesn’t have to be intentionally directed at a specific person.
Some types of sexual harassment, such as sexual assault and other physical threats, are a criminal matter as well as an employment matter. Criminal matters should be reported to the police. Call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger or if the crime is in progress. Call 101 to contact the police if the crime is not an emergency.
If a complaint is reported to the police, or criminal court proceedings are being pursued, an employer must still investigate the complaint as an employment matter. An employer may then follow its disciplinary procedure without awaiting the outcome of criminal proceedings, provided this can be done fairly.
For further advice on sexual harassment please click here.
Promptly seek legal advice to guide you through the necessary steps. Your legal team will advise you on crucial actions, which may involve:
It is of utmost importance to refrain from all contact with the complainant and anyone associated with them during this process.”
If you have been accused of sexual harassment or assault, please click here to talk to a member of our dedicated criminal team, or contact us via phone on 020 3196 7822 or email us on email@example.com.