The former DJ and Top of the Pops presenter, Dave Lee Travis, was convicted yesterday of indecently assaulting a TV personality while preparing for a guest appearance on The Mrs Merton Show in 1995. The woman did not make a complaint at the time. Mr Travis has described the case against him as a “witch hunt” and said, ” If patting someone’s bottom was a crime in the 1970s, half this country would be in jail.
Mr Travis was prosecuted for a criminal offence but legislation has been in place prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace since 1975. His conviction confirmed an open secret at Broadcasting House where he was dubbed the Octopus by young female colleagues because of his wandering hands.
Despite being aware of the allegations, BBC managers failed to act. It will now face calls for a review of the handling of allegations of sexual harassment at the corporation. Female staff have said that they were afraid to report the harassment to management for fear of being dismissed.
No one should have to tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment occurs where someone engages in unwanted conduct related to sex and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating the individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim. This can include, for instance, sexually explicit language or pictures, inappropriate physical contact, sexist jokes, remarks and banter. It can also include less explicit conduct related to sex, for example,
There is no need for an individual to have already made it clear that the perpetrator’s conduct is unwanted in order for it to amount to harassment. A single incident can be enough to constitute harassment. The fact that the employee has put up with it for years does not mean that it cannot be unwanted. Nor does the fact that the employee initiated “banter” as a coping strategy.
The Equality Act 2010 protects a wide range of individuals in the employment context against sex discrimination including job applicants, employees, contract and agency workers, partners, office holders and the police amongst others.
Under the Equality Act, employers might be liable for the unlawful actions of their employees. Anything done by an employee in the course of employment is treated as having also been done by the employer regardless of whether the employee’s acts were done with the employer’s knowledge or approval. So an employer can be vicariously liable for discrimination or harassment committed by an employee in the course of employment. An employer will be able to defend such a claim but only if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee doing the discriminatory act or anything of such nature.
It is important to act promptly in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. Complaints of unlawful harassment must normally be brought within 3 months of the date of the act complained of. If an employer takes action against an employee as a result of the employee raising an internal complaint or grievance that is likely to constitute unlawful victimisation which is also actionable in the employment tribunal. A tribunal can award compensation in successful claims for sexual harassment.