Workplace sexual harassment: “Me Too”

Posted on November 03, 2017
Written by Caroline Dutot

“Me Too”, two simple terms that have stormed social media in the last week, raising awareness around sexual assault and harassment in a big way. In the wake of several sexual harassment claims being made against film producer Harvey Weinstein, Actress Alyssa Milano asked people to tweet #MeToo if they had ever experienced sexual harassment, her tweet reading:

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” the star tweeted, along with an invitation to reply to her tweet with “me too.”

In response thousands of individuals have taken to social media using the hastag #MeToo to indicate if they too have suffered sexual harassment or assault.

The #MeToo campaign has gained such traction that it has resulted in a major Netflix TV series, House of Cards, being pulled after historical allegations about Kevin Spacey, who plays one of the main characters, surfaced under the #MeToo banner.

The #MeToo campaign has highlighted the magnitude and extent of sexual harassment generally but particularly in the work place.  In the halls of Westminster it has thus far resulted in the resigning of the defence secretary, suspension of a Labour MP and a discussion over sexual harassment during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Under the Discrimination (Jersey) Law 2013 a person harasses another if they engage in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which has the purpose or effect of violating that person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive work environment. Discrimination then occurs when either the rejection or submission of such conduct results in a person being treated less favourably than if they hadn’t rejected or submitted to the conduct.

If you are an employer in Jersey, the advice of JACS is that you should set up a separate complaints procedure for harassment. This is because employees may be reluctant to use their employer’s usual grievance procedure if the complaint is of a personal nature or if the harasser is the worker’s line manager.  Employers should review their policies and procedures to ensure that they have a segregated and robust procedure for harassment, giving individual employees recourse outside of their immediate line management, if required. It is also imperative for organisations to create cultures in which sexual harassment isn’t considered acceptable.

If you are an employee suffering sexual harassment in the work place it is important to:

  • Keep written records of dates, times and details of any conduct that has occurred;
  • File a grievance complaint about the conduct; and
  • If the grievance is ignored or dealt with ineffectually, employees should obtain legal advice as to whether their employer’s conduct has breached their contract of employment and whether they can bring claims for constructive dismissal and/or harassment.

A successful claim for harassment alone before the Employment Tribunal in Jersey could result in an award up to £10,000 being made. Such awards can be made against both employers and private individuals i.e. an individual who has committed sexual harassment. Furthermore it could result in successful claims for constructive dismissal or for personal injury by virtue of an employer failing in their duty “to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.” Aside from the financial risks involved, the social climate around sexual harassment is in a wake of reinforcement and arguably change following the #MeToo campaign.  Meaning that reputationally no business wishes to see their organisation’s name or employees connected to the #Metoo hashtag because of acts that have occurred in their workplace.

Advocate Caroline Dutot is Ardent Chambers’ employment law specialist. Contact Caroline or view her profile at:  https://www.ardentchambers.com/advocate-caroline-dutot/

Register to our mailing list to keep in touch and receive our Ardent Insights Register