One of our employees has just bought the latest mobile phone, and has been showing it off around the office. He has downloaded a number of ring tones with obscene lyrics – some of which are of a sexually explicit nature. While I do not wish to appear old fashioned, I am concerned that these lyrics may cause offence to other employees and clients alike. What should I do?
In an evermore technological environment, employers need to be aware that traditional acts of harassment have been replaced. The age of the Page 3 topless calendar being the epitome of sex discrimination has been replaced by racy mobile phone screensavers and explicit ring tones.
You have a duty to provide a safe working environment free from bullying and harassment. Act now to protect your organisation, employees and clients. Intention is nothing – perception is everything. While your employee probably does not intend to bully or harass anyone, it only takes one person to be offended by the lyrics, and a chain of events could be started that may lead to the grievance procedure being instigated, and employment tribunal proceedings being brought against both your employee and your company.
By law, if an employee or client is the victim of bullying or harassment in the workplace, both the perpetrator and your company may be liable for the payment of damages to the person offended. In certain circumstances (such as assault, or the publication of offensive material), acts of bullying or harassment may also give rise to criminal liability.
The situation alluded to here – initially at least – should be dealt with informally, as your employee is likely to be unaware that their behaviour is unacceptable. If this is successful, no further action should be necessary. However, it may be a good opportunity to update your diversity training to ensure this type of behaviour does not occur again.
If another employee makes a complaint of harassment, you are under a duty to investigate the matter and deal with it as a formal grievance. Action should include a thorough investigation and, if necessary, the appropriate disciplinary action.
Helen Brooks is a specialist employment solicitor at Magrath & Co