Changes in law over sexual harassment.
The European Amended Equal Treatment Directive (2002/03) has required some changes to the UK's discrimination legislation.
In many respects, the changes simply clarify the existing law and so the new laws will not impact significantly upon current business practice. However, one of the main changes is the introduction of a definition of sexual harassment.
Although the concept of sexual harassment has been recognised through case law, there has until recently been no statutory definition of sexual harassment.
A new statutory definition of harassment has now been introduced by the Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2005, in force from October last year.
The regulations, which amend the Sex Discrimination Act, provide that a person may not be treated less favourably because of their submission to or rejection of conduct amounting to harassment.
Harassment will be unlawful in the following situations:
* Sex-based harassment ( is unwanted conduct on grounds of the victim's sex that has the purpose or effect of violating dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment (sex-related harassment). This would cover harassment that takes place simply because someone is a woman (or a man).
* Sexual harassment ( is any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, that has the purpose or effect of any of the above violations or environmental effects. This would include a person making unwelcome sexually explicit comments.
* It is also unlawful to treat someone less favourably because of a person's rejection of, or submission to, such unwanted conduct. For example, refusing someone promotion because they reject the (unwanted) advances of a colleague.
Finally, harassment in relation to employment or vocational training due to a person's gender reassignment is unlawful. This is the case whether a man or woman intends to undergo, is undergoing, or has undergone gender reassignment.
This new law should encourage employers to review their harassment polices to ensure they are up-to-date.
It is important to have a comprehensive policy with clear procedures setting out how to handle harassment claims.
Employees should be made aware of and fully understand the employer's approach to preventing harassment in the workplace. Such training may also improve an employer's chances of successfully defending a tribunal complaint on these grounds.