Q: I am expected to entertain clients out of hours to discuss projects. One client who is of great financial importance to my directors, has made highly suggestive comments that made me very uncomfortable the last two times I have entertained him to dinner. I have had sleepless nights thinking about having to meet with him again. When I spoke to my director about it he told me I was being over-sensitive, that it was just ‘client banter’, and I should feel flattered! I am worried that I will lose my job if I refuse to meet with him again. What should I do?
A: Under the Equality Act 2010 employees are protected from being sexually harassed in the workplace. ‘The workplace’ includes anywhere where the employee is carrying out duties instructed by their employer.
The law states that you have suffered sexual harassment if: you have experienced conduct of a sexual nature, and it was unwanted, and it had the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you. ‘A sexual nature’ is defined, amongst other things, as sexual jokes or comments, displaying sexually graphic material, suggestive looks, sexual propositions or advances and making promises in return for sexual favours.
Employers have a duty of care to protect their workers and will be legally liable for sexual harassment in the workplace if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it. This duty of care is not only relevant to protecting employees from other employees, but also includes third party harassment from the likes of clients, customers, suppliers etc.
If your employer refuses to protect you from this client or threatens you with losing your job if you refuse to entertain him, you may be able to bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal for damages for injury to feelings, as well as compensation for any lost earnings. You should seek further legal advice as soon as possible.
This question has been answered by James Denton, a Solicitor with GHP Legal. If you would like to speak to someone about this or any other legal matter it is still possible, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that we continue to offer our high levels of service to our clients. Where possible, we ask that you communicate with us by phone or email. If you have a new enquiry or for an appointment visit www.ghplegal.com or contact one of our offices: Wrexham 01978 291456, Llangollen 01978 860313, Oswestry 01691 659194