The rise of the #metoo movement and the abolition of employment tribunal fees could combine to produce a sharp increase in sexual harassment claims in the wake of this year’s round of Christmas parties.

The number of employment tribunal claims has climbed sharply since the fees introduced in 2013 were ruled unlawful last year, while the #metoo movement, which started to gain momentum in the wake of high-profile allegations in the United States late in 2017, is credited with contributing to improved reporting of sexual offences in several countries.

The warning to businesses comes from leading legal expenses insurance provider ARAG, which provides legal protection and advice to millions of families and companies.

“Every year, businesses are warned about the risk of harassment claims arising out of Christmas parties.” comments Lesley Attu, ARAG’s Head of Product Development. “But that risk is likely to be heightened this year because two previous barriers to making a claim have been removed or reduced, over the past eighteen months.”

“It is now clear that employment tribunal fees were inhibiting some employees from pursuing a claim, and reporting of all types of sexual offence has also increased significantly since last year.”

The total number of employment tribunal claims accepted between July 2017, when application fees were struck down, and June 2018 showed an increase of 73% on the previous 12 months. Over the same period, the total number of all sexual offences recorded by police in England and Wales increased by 18%.

“Now more than ever, employers need to be aware of their responsibilities and should be positive in educating staff to help avoid problems.”

 

ARAG’s 4-point plan to avoid harassment claims arising out of company events:

 
  • Brief managers and supervisors to set a good example to their teams and to keep an eye out for situations that could lead to problems
  • Advise staff before the event that normal workplace rules of conduct and behaviour still apply at Christmas parties and will have to be enforced
  • Moderate the flow of alcohol to limit the risk of excessive consumption
  • Address any incidents or allegations swiftly and fairly according to normal procedures and policies

“Christmas parties are still a great opportunity for employers to say thanks to staff and for everyone to let their hair down,” continues Attu “but everyone should know by now, that inappropriate language and behaviour are completely unacceptable at any work event.

They also need to remember that company liability doesn’t necessarily stop at the end of an official party. If incidents involving staff occur elsewhere, on the way home or at another location, the company can still be held responsible for the actions of employees in some circumstances.

Businesses should already be well aware of their duty of care to protect employees from harassment or assault at work and it’s in their interests to make sure that all staff understand their responsibilities too.”

Disclaimer - all information in this article was correct at time of publishing.

 

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