Priya Cunningham: The darker side of the work Christmas party

While many joke about the pitfalls of doing something silly on a work night out at Christmas, there is also the darker issue of sexual harassment by a colleague, writes Watermans‘ Priya Cunningham.

The majority of sexual harassment cases brought before the Employment Tribunal are brought by women. A total of 52 per cent of women surveyed by the Trade Union Congress’ everyday sexism project have experienced some form of sexual harassment connected with their employment.

The definition of sexual harassment is any unwanted behaviour related to sex, or of a sexual nature, which violates the person’s dignity. This can include derogatory comments, unwanted touching and groping, sexual gestures, sexual advances, suggestive dancing and in worse cases, sexual assault and rape.

In order for the behaviour to be unwanted, or unwelcome, the person does not need to have specifically objected to the behaviour.

We seem to have moved on, partially, from a blame culture where women are somehow to blame if they don’t protest loud enough about the harassment they are subjected to.

However, attitudes still exist where a woman is to blame if she is dressed a certain way or if she behaves a certain way.

It is not an excuse to say that the behaviour from the perpetrator was just a bit of banter, and an employer cannot brush off the behaviour of their employee with this excuse.

Many people still might know that conduct of another employee or of a boss on a works night out is still in the course of employment and their employer has an obligation to investigate any complaints harassment that the woman might have been subjected to.

As a result of this, victims often don’t report the harassment to their employer. And it is particularly difficult for them to report harassment if their direct boss is the perpetrator.

Young women and trainees or junior members of staff can be particularly vulnerable. Over a fifth of women report that they have been harassed by their boss or someone in power.

Despite making inroads and moving away from a blame culture, women can be afraid to speak out.

Of the women who admit that they have been sexually harassed by a colleague, more than half say that they have not reported it to their employer. There can be a number of reasons for this such as fear of not being believed, or the woman can be afraid that it will impact on their career progression.

Even worse, than this is a situation where the harassment is reported and nothing is done. Employer’s don’t always deal with the situation effectively. For example, in a case of serious assault, an employer might not investigate the matter properly. If there are no criminal proceedings this leaves women in a difficult position.

Despite this, victims need to speak up. The progress of the MeToo movement has shone a light on the issue of harassment and paved the way for women to stand up for their rights.