Workplace harassment: what are your options?
Recent events in Westminster and Hollywood have shown that, unfortunately, sexual harassment is still alive and kicking in the workplace.
Affecting both women and men, the fact that this deplorable behaviour goes on may be news, but it won’t come as a shock to many of us.
And whilst it’s clear that politics and showbiz are quite opaque workplaces and that this has leant itself to abuses of power, the revelations have caused many people in ‘normal jobs’ to reassess whether they might also have been victims of harassment at work.
It’s useful to remember that harassment isn’t always sexual in nature. Persistent bullying can also count if it focuses on particular personal characteristics such as gender, race, sexuality or even age.
So, if you’re subject to harassment at work, what are your options? Samantha Castle, employment solicitor discusses what you can do if you’re facing harassment at work.
I’ve been harassed at work – what can I do?
If you’re being harassed at work, there are a couple of things you could and should try before thinking about legal action.
The first is to speak to your manager. Or, if you aren’t comfortable speaking to them about it (especially if they’re the culprit) then contact your HR department instead.
Ask to arrange a private chat with them and set out how you’re being harassed. Explain what you want to happen as a result – if a particular colleague is giving you grief then anything ranging from a quiet word to a formal warning may be enough to make them stop. Particularly serious instances of harassment may merit suspension or even a sacking – your employer will have to make a careful judgement on this.
Keep a written record
Whoever you speak to, try to make a written record during or after the meeting, including any actions agreed, and send them a copy so that you have a mutual point of reference about what was discussed if you need it. It’s worth keeping a copy at home for your personal records as well.
If you’re part of a trade union, you can ask your trade union representative for informal support and guidance through this process.
After raising your concerns informally, hopefully the harassment you’re experiencing should stop. If it doesn’t, the next step is to raise a formal complaint through your employer’s grievance procedure – this should be available in your employee handbook, but you may need to ask for it if not.
Grievance procedures are often complex and jargon-heavy documents, so if you need some assistance navigating them, it may be worth getting some initial advice from a solicitor.
Employment tribunal action
If alternative methods of resolving an employment dispute have failed, starting legal action against your employer may be your only option. This is particularly true if you’ve been forced out of your job by harassing behaviour, or if you’ve been dismissed as a result of raising your concerns internally.
If you’re still in your job, an employment tribunal can order your employer to improve your working conditions – in other words, to make sure the harassment stops. If you’ve been forced out, the employment tribunal can give you your job back in some instances or award you compensation in others.
You’re eligible for compensation if you’ve been unfairly dismissed (because of complaining about harassment) or constructively dismissed – for example, where you’ve felt forced to leave because of continued harassment.
Because harassment is usually in relation to a personal characteristic such as gender or race, tribunals are within their rights to consider it discrimination, meaning the compensation they could then award you is uncapped.
If you think you’ve been harassed at work, it’s important to act swiftly. Tribunal claims are normally limited to three months after the event, which isn’t much time at all.
How we can help
If you’d like some independent legal advice about harassment in the workplace, or any other employment law matter, our team of employment solicitors are on hand to help.