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Lawyer calls for mandatory duty on employers to investigate repeat allegations of harassment

Leading employment and discrimination law specialist calls for a mandatory duty on an employer to investigate repeated allegations of harassment in a workplace

25 October 2017

A leading employment and discrimination law specialist has called for a mandatory duty on an employer to investigate seriously and take action under the presumption that the victims are telling the truth, where an individual has been accused of harassment more than once in a workplace.

Kiran Daurka, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, believes that organisations should have specific, trained staff who can deal with reports of harassment in a sensitive and thorough manner, without worrying about reputation management.

A BBC investigation revealed today that more than half of British women (53%) and a fifth (20%) of men have experienced sexual harassment in their place of work or study.

BBC Radio 5Live commissioned the study of 2,031 adults by ComRes which showed that more women (30%) than men (12%) were targeted by a boss or senior manager.

Ten percent of women who had experienced harassment said it led to them leaving their job or place of study. Those surveyed had suffered harassment ranging from inappropriate jokes and comments, to inappropriate touching, to sexual assault.

Of those surveyed who said they had been harassed, the majority did not report the harassment – 63% of women and 79% of men.

The prevalence of sexual harassment has been highlighted following allegations made public about film producer Harvey Weinstein and others in positions of power in Hollywood.

Many people have used social media to highlight the scale of the problem across the world by sharing their experiences of sexual harassment or to confirm it has happened to them using the hashtag “me too”.

Kiran Daurka, employment and discrimination solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, said: “Whilst all allegations of harassment should be thoroughly investigated, in my view there should be a mandatory duty on an employer to investigate seriously and take action under the presumption that the victims are telling the truth, where there are repeated allegations of harassment made against a person by other members of staff.

"Although this action may be controversial I think it is an important conversation to have to enable cultural change in organisations, which is evidently needed.

“In addition, all organisations should have specific, trained staff who can deal with reports of harassment in a sensitive and thorough manner, without worrying about reputation management.

“Harassment most often occurs when there is an imbalance of power so it’s not surprising that younger workers, in more junior roles, are most likely to have experienced harassment.

“Bringing harassment claims can be difficult as they often involve one person’s word against another. The person bringing the complaint is also required to prove that the conduct was ‘unwanted’ when in most cases the main defence will be that it was mutual, if they admit it happened at all.

“In addition, the person who has been the victim of harassment must be prepared to bring the legal claim within three months of the offence, when many do not feel able to talk about the situation. They may also be employed in the company where the harassment occurred, creating a further impediment to seeking redress.

“Many employers we see in the Employment Tribunal are not prepared to deal with difficult issues and often just pay lip service to their harassment policies, preferring instead to gloss over incidents.”

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