Sexual harassment is prohibited by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. If an employee suffers sexual harassment he or she may resign and claim constructive dismissal. Up to now, it was thought that harassment would be over a period of time but an employment appeal tribunal has recently held that one isolated remark can constitute sex discrimination.
In Insitu Cleaning Co Ltd and Another v Heads. (1995) a manager of a cleaning company greeted an employee with "Hiya big tits". The woman found this grossly offensive, particularly as the man was considerably younger than her and was one of the directors. The manager denied making the remark and the employers advised her to use the company's grievance procedure. She preferred an informal approach, but when no agreement was reached she resigned and claimed constructive dismissal.
The industrial tribunal agreed that the single act of sexual harassment was sufficiently serious for the purposes of the Act and awarded her Pounds 750 for injury to her feelings. However, the tribunal turned down her claim for unfair dismissal as she had not acted upon the proper advice by the employer to use the grievance procedure.
The employer appealed against the finding, arguing that it was perverse to consider one incident as so serious that it was capable of amounting to sexual harassment. The EAT did not agree. It was a matter of fact that such an offensive remark by a younger man was calculated to, and did, cause distress. It was, therefore, a form of unacceptable bullying, compounded by the man's age and subsequent arrogance and dismissive manner. The appeal was rejected.
The European Commission has issued a code of practice giving guidance to employers, covering prevention of sexual harassment and procedures to deal with it. Schools, like any other institution, should have such procedures in place to protect pupils as well as staff.