ABUSE: Support for victim-survivors of violence against women

By Lucy Ashton

West Dunbartonshire Council has joined a nationwide campaign to combat violence against women and encourage more diversity in the workforce.

The Equally Safe at Work pledge, run by charity Close the Gap will see the Council engage in a variety of activities over the next 18 months, including creating policies and procedures to help progress sex and gender equality in the workplace and better support victim-survivors of violence against women.

Council Leader Martin Rooney, right, said: “The council places a high focus on gender equality.

“It’s crucial that every employee at work feels safe and supported in West Dunbartonshire Council and I’m very pleased that we have joined this initiative.

“We will be undertaking a number of activities to progress sex and gender equality and receive the resources to better support victim of violence and enable us to create procedures and guidelines that more accurately reflect the requirements of every Council employee.”

Chief Executive Peter Hessett, left, said: “We are pleased to announce that West Dunbartonshire Council is participating in the Equally Safe at Work accreditation programme.

“We understand that eliminating sex and gender disparity in the workplace is an important  step in ending sex and gender inequality and decreasing violence against women.

“By participating in this programme, we will be sector leaders demonstrating our commitment to gender equality.

“This programme will enable us to review and update policies and practices to ensure they are reflective of the needs of all council employees.”

What sexual harassment is

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. The law (Equality Act 2010) protects the following people against sexual harassment at work:

  • employees and workers
  • contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work
  • job applicants

To be sexual harassment, the unwanted behaviour must have either:

  • violated someone’s dignity, whether it was intended or not
  • created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them, whether it was intended or not

Employers must do all they reasonably can to protect staff from sexual harassment and take steps to prevent it happening.

Who is responsible

Employers should do all they can to try to prevent sexual harassment happening in the first place.

Anyone who sexually harasses someone at work is responsible for their own actions.

Employers can be responsible too – this is called ‘vicarious liability’. By law, they must do everything they reasonably can to protect staff from sexual harassment. This covers:

  • employees and workers
  • contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work
  • job applicants

Employers also have a responsibility – a ‘duty of care’ – to look after the wellbeing of their employees. If an employer does not do this, in some cases it could lead to a serious breach of an employee’s employment contract. If an employee feels they have no choice but to resign because of it, the employer could face a claim of constructive dismissal.

All complaints of sexual harassment should be taken very seriously. Employers should handle any investigation in a way that’s fair and sensitive to:

  • the person who made the complaint
  • someone who witnessed it
  • someone who’s been accused of sexual harassment

Who can experience sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can happen to men, women and people of any gender identity or sexual orientation. It can be carried out by anyone of the same sex, a different sex or anyone of any gender identity.

You could experience sexual harassment from anyone you come into contact with because of your job, including:

  • someone you work with
  • a manager, supervisor or someone else in a position of authority
  • someone high profile or influential

You can also experience sexual harassment from a customer, client or member of the public. An employer should take steps to prevent this.

Examples of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can be a one-off incident or an ongoing pattern of behaviour.

It can happen in person or in other ways, for example online through things like email, social media or messaging tools.

Examples include:

  • flirting, gesturing or making sexual remarks about someone’s body, clothing or appearance
  • asking questions about someone’s sex life
  • telling sexually offensive jokes
  • making sexual comments or jokes about someone’s sexual orientation or gender reassignment
  • displaying or sharing pornographic or sexual images, or other sexual content
  • touching someone against their will, for example hugging them
  • sexual assault or rape

What some people might consider as joking, ‘banter’ or part of their workplace culture is still sexual harassment if:

  • the behaviour is of a sexual nature
  • it’s unwanted
  • it violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them

Sexual harassment is usually directed at an individual, but it’s not always the case. Sometimes there can be a culture of sexual harassment in a workplace that’s not specifically aimed at one person – such as sharing sexual images. Someone could still make a complaint of sexual harassment in this situation.

The law on harassment

The Equality Act 2010 protects people against sexual harassment and harassment related to ‘protected characteristics’, for example a person’s sex.

At work, the law covers:

  • employees and workers
  • contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work
  • job applicants

Find out more about protected characteristics and harassment

Sexual harassment is different to harassment related to a person’s protected characteristic, for example sex, sexual orientation or gender reassignment. Someone could experience both types of harassment at the same time, or separately.

Meanwhile,  Liberal Democrats have called on Rishi Sunak to commit to sacking Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, if the official investigation confirms the allegations of bullying made against him.

The party has also called on the Prime Minister to publish the report in full, within 24 hours of receiving it, with no redaction beyond those necessary to protect the privacy of individuals involved.

Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP, right, said:  “The Prime Minister must commit now to sacking Dominic Raab if complaints about his bullying are upheld. Anything less would make a mockery of his promise to bring back integrity.

“It’s only been four weeks and already Rishi Sunak has repeatedly turned a blind eye to allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Conservative ministers. This can’t be yet another case of one rule for Conservative MPs and another rule for everyone else.

“Every day brings yet more sleaze and scandal, while families around the country pay the price for this endless Conservative chaos.”

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