In the wake of the allegations of widespread sexual harassment and assault of numerous women by Harvey Weinstein, the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace has once again come to the fore.

One could be forgiven for assuming that gender equality is pretty much a given in 2017 but, sadly, this is far from the case. Northern Ireland has the highest rate of sexual harassment in the UK workplace according to a study by the Association of Certified Accountants (ACCA).

Many people experience sexual harassment in the workplace but a significant majority suffer in silence or receive an inadequate response from their employer when allegations are raised formally. Anyone with a social media account will have seen the trending #MeToo hashtag which was intended to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem.  It has certainly done that. The result, in which many contributors share their often harrowing experiences of harassment and assault in all areas of life, including the workplace, makes for very depressing reading.

MTB Solicitors recently acted for a civilian worker within the Police Service of Northern Ireland in a claim against the PSNI following a complaint of inappropriate behaviour from a male colleague. The case focused on how the PSNI dealt with the complaints or rather, allegedly, how they failed to appropriately deal with the complaint.  http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/male-chauvinism-towards-female-staff-in-psni-brushed-under-carpet-court-hears-36218242.html

What can be done?

Obviously a wholesale change in attitude needs to occur but, in the short term, raising awareness and challenging unacceptable behaviour when it occurs is the route to changing attitudes. It is also important that someone in this position is supported as ‘victim blaming’is sadly common when any allegations of sexual harassment or assault are made.

If you have made a complaint to your employer and are dissatisfied with the response you have received feel free to contact a member of our employment law team to discuss your options.

Likewise, if you are an employer and you are unsure what constitutes an adequate response, contact our team for advice.  In an age of social media and the increasing commercialisation of a company’s ethics, proceedings of this nature being brought against your company could cause irreparable reputational damage. It is important to ensure that your disciplinary processes are robust and that the complaint and the needs of the complainant are dealt with sensitively and appropriately.