Workplace rights - Harassment is no joke

Twelve years ago, two waitresses claimed they had suffered sexual and racial harassment at a hotel banquet addressed by comedian Bernard Manning. Their employer, the hotel, was held liable for failing to protect them in a situation where it had control.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The case established that employers must shield their staff from harassment, not only by work colleagues but also by third parties such as clients or members of the public. But that principle was drastically narrowed by a later House of Lords ruling, and Government regulations amending the Sex Discrimination Act in 2005 failed to include third-party conduct in the definition of sexual harassment. The High Court has now agreed with the Equal Opportunities Commission that the regulations did not properly implement an EU directive on sex equality in various ways. In particular, they fail to protect women from degrading treatment by customers or clients, even when their employer is aware and could take steps to prevent it. The upshot is that UK sex discrimination law will again have to be redrafted - along with equivalent provisions covering harassment on grounds such as race, religion and sexual orientation. At least so far as employment law is concerned, Bernard Manning is back in fashion.

- Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors, e-mail: employment@lewissilkin.com.

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