Questions and answers about sexual harassment
- Why is sexual harassment regulated in different acts?
Different acts have different purposes.
The purpose of the Discrimination Act is to combat discrimination and promote equal rights and opportunities in, for example, workplaces.
The purpose of the Work Environment Act and the Work Environment Authority’s regulations is to promote health and safety at work and they focus on the employer’s obligations to work with prevention.
Both acts contain different obligations for employers and different rights for those who work in the employer’s organisation.
- Which rules apply if sexual harassment occurs between two employees?
If harassment occurs between two colleagues, the employer has an obligation to investigate the harassment and rectify the situation, i.e. prevent further harassment. If the employer does not fulfil this obligation, the employer may be liable to pay discrimination compensation to the victim.
This applies to both harassment and sexual harassment.
- An employee feels they are being sexually harassed by a colleague at an office party – do I as a manager need to do something?
Yes, the employer’s obligation to investigate and rectify the situation applies to sexual harassment that is related to work.
The obligation applies as soon as the employer becomes aware in some way that someone in the workplace feels they have been subjected to sexual harassment.
The obligation applies to incidents that occur in the workplace but also to those that occur outside of the workplace and outside of normal working hours if there is a connection to work. For example, it applies to incidents that occur during a business trip, at a party organised by the employer or during an excursion colleagues undertake together.
- When is a sexual behaviour "unwelcome"?
Unwelcome behaviour is behaviour that the victim feels to be unwanted or violatory. It is the victim who decides whether or not the behaviour is unwelcome.
The law states that the person who is doing the harassment must understand that their behaviour is felt to be unwelcome or unwanted for it to be a question of sexual harassment. It is therefore important that those who are or have been subject to harassment make it clear to the person who is harassing them that the behaviour is unwelcome or unwanted. If the perpetrator continues their behaviour after such a reprimand, it may be sexual harassment.
In some situations the behaviour may be so obviously and clearly a violation that a reprimand from the person who feels they are being harassed is unnecessary.
- Can flirtation be sexual harassment?
If both parties are involved in the flirtation it is not sexual harassment.
If one of the parties instead feels that the flirtation is unwelcome or unwanted and does not want it to continue, that may be sexual harassment.
Accordingly, the factor that determines whether or not behaviour is sexual harassment is whether the behaviour is unwelcome or unwanted.