**Updated November 2018**

It may just be because we work in the legal profession and therefore tend to keep abreast of the legal news more readily than non-lawyers will, but there does appear to have been an alarming number of news stories appearing about sexual assault/harassment cases taking place at some very high-profile solicitors firms.

First up was a report that a male partner at the law firm of Dentons had left the company after a number of complaints from female staff about inappropriate sexual behaviour. A spokesman for Dentons said that following an investigation it ‘had found no evidence of sexual harassment’ whist accepting that ‘the behaviour of the partner concerned fell well below the expectations we have of our partners.’

Then at the beginning of February came reports of an alleged sexual assault at the top city firm of Baker McKenzie involving a senior male partner and an associate. The associate purportedly received a settlement and signed a confidentiality agreement, whilst the partner is said to be in the process of leaving the firm.

Finally,  only a few days ago came further depressing news, that a partner in the ‘Magic Circle’ law firm Linklaters, whose headquarters are in London, had been sentenced to prison in Munich for sexually assaulting a student intern at a firm party several years ago.

Sexual assault and harassment at work isn’t just confined to the offices of City law firms, of course.

In 2016, the TUC in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project produced a research study which found that 52% of women and nearly to thirds (62%) of women aged between 18-24, said that they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. In the vast majority of cases (88%), the perpetrator of the sexual harassment was male, and nearly one in five (17%) women reported that it was their line manager or someone with direct authority over them.

When is conduct considered to be sexual assault and when is it sexual harassment?

Sexual Assault

As a criminal act, Sexual Assault is defined in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as being when a person (A);

  1. Intentionally touches another person (B)
  2. The touching is sexual
  3. B does not consent to the touching, and
  4. A does not reasonably believe that B consents

If this type of assault happens in the workplace, it is still a criminal offence.

In so far as making a civil claim for compensation arising from the assault, the assault itself might have caused little or even no physical injury, but the psychological injury could be severe and long lasting. If the assault occurred within the workplace then your employer may be liable to pay you compensation. This is due to something in law that is called vicarious liability, which means that someone can be liable for an injury to a person even if they did not cause the injury, but they have a particular relationship to the person that did act negligently or wrongly – such as an employer/employee relationship. The incident needs to have taken place in the course of employment. Employers often do their best to argue that an assault has not happened during the course of employment. However, assaults taking place whilst both employees are on a course away from the office or at an office function, can still be ‘in the course of employment.’

This can be a tricky area to navigate your way through if you were to try and bring a claim yourself. That is why it is advisable to consult a firm of solicitors that has experience of these types of cases, should you find yourself in the position of having been sexually assaulted at work. At Truth Legal, assault at work compensation claims are one of the areas that we have particular expertise and we can expertly guide you through to achieving a successful outcome in your compensation claim, at what is likely to be a difficult time for you. No Win, No Fee may be available to help you pursue your case.

Sexual Assault may lead to a claim for Constructive Dismissal if the victim decides that they can no longer work at the company any more. In this case a claim through the Employment Tribunal could be pursued. To consider your options, if you have suffered from a sexual assault at work, contact us today.

Sexual Harrassment

In a case from 2011, Petrina Taylor a telesales worker at BT was sexually harassed by her manager to such an extent that an Employment Tribunal awarded her £290,000 after she resigned her £20,000 a year job, with a Leeds Employment Tribunal upholding her claims of sex discrimination and unfair (constructive) dismissal. It was the highest award in the preceding 12 months, granted by an Employment Tribunal.

According to reports, Miss Taylor’s immediate boss had ‘thrust’ himself at her and her female colleagues. He warned her that if she failed to land a certain deal that he would perform a sex act over her. According to the reports when she asked for time off, to see her doctor about her contraception arrangements, he purportedly replied: ‘What are you telling me for? I’m not shoving it up you.’ Over a period of time this type of behaviour towards Miss Taylor was repeated, until she walked out of her job when the harassment and bullying became too much. She took her employer BT to an Employment Tribunal and won her case in emphatic style with the panel finding that ‘BT’s reaction to the complaints (from Miss Taylor) fell woefully short of what should be expected from a company of this size.’

Sexual Harassment can take a variety of forms.  Sometimes it maybe in the form of suggestive remarks, other times it may come in the form of the perpetrator circulating pornography, demanding sexual favours, accompanied by threats or intimidation. Offensive jokes, pranks and emails of a sexual nature – all could constitute sexual harassment.

What should you do if you are suffering from sexual harassment in the workplace?

  1. Don’t just wait and hope that it will pass over without taking some positive action.
  2. Don’t quit your job at this stage either. You may walk away with nothing and the person carrying out the harassment will have got away with it and will probably carry on their behaviour with a new victim.
  3. If your health is suffering because of the harassment, make sure that you see a doctor.
  4. Ensure that you get down in writing everything that has been and still is happening to you.
  5. Then make a complaint/grievance to management.
  6. If after doing so, no action or insufficient action is taken to resolve the issue, contact us, or at least an experienced firm of sexual harassment lawyers. We’d prefer you to contact us though because we know that we at Truth Legal are best placed and experienced to help you. We will take the issue up with your employers and thereafter if they do not deal with the matter properly or at all, we can then make a claim in the Employment Tribunal for you. Or, and if management are the problem, that is, it is someone from management that is causing the harassment, best to get in touch with us straight away on 01423 788 538 or via email to help@truthlegal.com

In fact, it’s never the wrong time to get in touch with us. So, if you need help and guidance without having taken any of the steps above, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re here to help you – contact us today.

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Catherine Reynolds
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