The Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in early October 2017 when the New York Times published a story detailing decades of allegations against Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment.  What followed was a deluge of accusations against many other celebrities in Hollywood and the wider entertainment industry.  By November, the scandal had embroiled Westminster with dozens of MPs implicated in allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviour.

Social media rose to the call and the hashtag #MeToo became the rallying cry against sexual assault and harassment.  The lid had been blown off endemic abuse of power and institutional sexism in many walks of life and it seems that a turning point has been reached in terms of sexual harassment in the workplace.

So, what constitutes sexual harassment?

It is useful first to understand what is meant by harassment in the workplace. ACAS describes harassment as ‘any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended.’  Add any type of sexual nature to the behaviour and you are looking at sexual harassment. There are some very obvious examples of behaviour that most people would agree would likely constitute sexual harassment like groping or exposing yourself to colleagues without invitation.  But there are other behaviours that can constitute sexual harassment that are less obvious, such as telling lewd jokes, displaying raunchy posters, or making rude gestures.

A common misconception is that if you personally think certain behaviour is acceptable, ‘just a joke’, or workplace banter, then it’s not as serious.  In fact, employment law is quite clear that it is how the behaviour is received that takes precedent, not how it was intended by the harasser.

Most of us in society have a good understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of behaviour in public.  But sexual harassment in the workplace seems to be more of a grey area, where standards of acceptable behaviour have changed over time.  When questioned over the allegations which forced his resignation as Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon recognised, “The culture has changed over the years.  What might have been acceptable 10, 15 years ago is clearly not acceptable now.”

Sexual harassment is no longer something that can be swept under the carpet.  The scandal that started with accusations against Harvey Weinstein has resulted in a new awareness and unified front against sexual harassment in industries everywhere in the connected world.  Make sure your business is up to date with bullying and harassment legislation and be aware of the risks.

For advice on how to deal with sexual harassment, please contact Andrew Hall on 01438 747 747 or email ahall@beststarthr.com.