Sexual harassment ­- how to recognise and prevent it

High profile court cases of sexual assault/harassment have been widely reported recently, with varying degrees of success.

Even though the media has focussed on high profile cases, it is known that similar undercurrents exist in the workplace, both toward male and female employees. Harassment in the work environment, whatever form it takes, is not to be tolerated and if proven to exist, can result in severe penalties.

Employers should note:

Harassment involves unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating or hostile environment. It is discriminatory if it is related to someone’s gender.

Often, the first an employer knows about harassment is when an employee puts in a written grievance or goes off sick with stress. By this stage, it may be too late to avoid liability.

Allegations of discrimination or harassment are likely to create bad publicity for an employer. It is better to take steps to prevent such claims, than to manage a crisis after a claim has been made.

Discrimination law is designed to ensure equality of opportunity at work, protect employees' dignity and ensure that complaints can be raised without fear of reprisal.