Man walks into a pub...

Here’s a joke: Man walks into a pub, makes a saucy comment to a barmaid, barmaid resigns and takes the landlord to an employment tribunal where it’s ruled barmaid has been sexually harassed and orders the landlord to pay compensation and costs.Actually, it’s not a joke: it’s the law as of yesterday.Women and Equalities Minister Harriet Harman forced through the latest changes to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, without consultation, on 14 March.Employers now have ‘vicarious liability for third-party harassment‘ if they fail to ‘take all reasonable steps to prevent staff from being subjected to forms of sexual discrimination’, such as lewd comments or sexist jokes.Now how is this going to work? Don’t get us wrong, we’re clearly in favour of any law protecting employee rights and sexual harassment can never be justified, but surely it’s a bit much asking small businesses to be responsible for what comes out of others’ mouths?Exactly what ‘reasonable steps’ is an employer expected to take? Should bosses start acting like the protective fathers of teenage daughters or secure signs reading ‘No sex please, we’re British’?We’re being facetious about a serious issue of course, but the truth is, businesses don’t know what to do because a) they don’t even know about the new law; and b) there aren’t any guidelines.Dan Martin, editor of Businesszone.co.uk, launched a campaign to get the laws delayed and did a great job in getting backing from the likes of the FSB and FPB. He hasn’t succeeded but the campaign at least sends the message future consultation is needed. Sign it here: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/delay-rules/Like so much government legislation you fear the winners will be the legal eagles not those really in need of protection – while plenty of unsuspecting employers will feel the cost. Employment tribunals doubled between April 2006 and March 2007, while sex discrimination cases jumped from 14,250 to 28,153: expect the same again.And worst of all, smutty misogynist toddles off to crack a mother-in-law gag none the wiser!

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