Donald Trump and Sexual Harassment

There have been very few dull moments throughout this year’s US presidency race, but recently there was something to make the ears of employment lawyers prick up. Donald Trump was reported as saying that if his daughter, Ivanka Trump, was harassed at work then he believed she should leave the company or find another career altogether.

Mr Trump has (not for the first time) received heavy criticism following these comments.

Unfortunately, despite the development of the law in this area, there are still many cases where women have felt the need to leave their jobs when faced with harassment.

For example, in 2015, in the case of Lokhova v Sberbank CIB (UK), a former banker brought a sexual harassment claim against her employer, a large Russian bank in London. A tribunal heard how she was subjected to degrading treatment by her colleagues, with false statements of drug-use being made about her and colleagues referring to her as “Ms Cokehead” and “Ms Bonkers”. Ultimately the tribunal found in her favour and awarded her over £3 million in compensation.

This year, in the case of Marks v Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, a former NHS employee was awarded £832,711, after being sexually harassed by a colleague. The tribunal heard how the employee, who had recently got engaged, went to have lunch with a colleague. During that lunch, the colleague hugged her and proclaimed his love for her.  The harassment then continued with love letters being left on the Claimant’s desk at work and text messages being sent asking the employee for an intimate relationship.

Although these examples are obvious, harassment in the workplace can be more subtle. For example, an employee who displays any material of a sexual nature, such as a topless calendar, may create an offensive environment for other colleagues.  Similarly, certain conduct which some may deem as ‘banter’ can be harassment, for instance, if office equipment is placed on a high shelf to make it hard for female employees to reach, this may be considered harassment ‘related to sex’ (since women are generally shorter than men).

Employers have a duty of care to all their employees.  Regular training should be provided to all staff so that they are fully aware of the nature of harassment and the implications. This can help prevent harassment from arising and may provide the employer with protection from claims.

Dominic Bonham