It's Sexual Harassment Honey

Roger Sutton's recent resignation following an investigation into complaints from a female employee has once more highlighted issues of harassment and bullying in the workplace.

As women working in the heavily male dominated construction industry, we owe it to ourselves, our current and future female colleagues and also our male colleagues to set and defend the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in the workplace.  Even language that may seem harmless ("sweetie", "honey", "love") can be the overt expression of deep-seated views about the roles and capabilities of women, and in our view should not necessarily be considered trivial.

What constitutes sexual harassment, harassment and / or bullying depends on the circumstances, and how to deal with the issues are a matter of importance for both employers and employees.

Bullying and harassment are characterised as offensive, intimidating or insulting behaviour. They can include behaviours which create:

  • implied or overt promises of preferential treatment in an employee's employment;
  • implied or overt threats of detrimental treatment in their employment;
  • an implied or overt threat about future or present employment status.

Sexual harassment can be broadly defined as any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, including any request for sexual activity together with one of the above behaviours. It is also the use of inappropriate language, physical behaviour (such as unwanted physical contact), or visual material of a sexual nature that is unwelcome or offensive.  Employers have an obligation to ensure that they address any such behaviour in the workplace.

Employers should have a clear policy in place on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, what to do if an employee is subject to any behaviour which they believe is either bullying, harassment and / or sexual harassment, and a strategy in place for investigating any claims.  Clear polices should give you as an employee confidence to address issues as and when they arise.

Thanks to Antony Harper for supplying the legal content above.

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