'Facial expressions' and banter over drinks with colleague outside of work now falls under workplace sexual harassment

Rebecca Hilsenrath, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission said that "unwanted conduct" includes pranks, social media contact and mimicry.


                            'Facial expressions' and banter over drinks with colleague outside of work now falls under workplace sexual harassment
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Drunken conversations, jokes, and even certain facial expressions can also be considered sexual harassment, the Equality and Human Rights Commission - a non-departmental public body in England and Wales, established by the Equality Act 2006 - has said.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said that "unwanted conduct' highlighted also includes pranks, social media contact and mimicry - all of which were highlighted in a letter addressed to 400 major firms which called for stricter anti-harassment policies in an age of the "Me Too" and "Times Up" movements, Daily Mail reported. 

Such behavior, even if "that is not how it was intended," can be considered unacceptable in the workplace, and as a result, businesses must train staff to be aware of risks. 

Part of the technical guidance that EHRC has told companies to take heed of, includes offenses like "suggestive looks, staring or leering" as well as intrusive questions about a person's sex life. Also, unwelcome hugging, massaging, kissing and touching are a strict no-no. One might also be reprimanded for spreading rumors about their colleagues' sexual relations. 

Any unwanted conduct of employees that occurs after work hours like visiting a pub with colleagues, will also fall "within the course of employment" and hence become the responsibility of the employer. 

In the letter, Hilsenrath advised the bosses to follow a seven-step rule to allow their employees to work in a safe environment. The steps include implementing the anti-harassment policy, engaging staff, cutting risks, providing training, making it simple to report incidents, taking immediate action upon a complaint and laying down ground rules to protect staff from harassment by other parties, including customers. 

Firms must "step up action against bad behavior," the letter stated. Employers would also need to make definitions and examples of harassment clear as well as warn them that violating the policy could get them fired.

"Recent high-profile cases have shone an important light on the continued harassment many women face in the workplace and showed that we still need to do more to modernise working cultures... The issue is not going to go away and if we are going to create working environments where no one is ever made to feel unsafe or threatened, then we need a dramatic shift in workplace cultures," the letter said.

Hilsenrath concluded with the fact that the burden to challenge harassment had wrongly been on the victim as opposed to the employer in the past.

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