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EMPLOYERS could face a rise in unfair dismissal claims from workplace sex pests if rules regarding the issue are not firmly established, employment lawyers warn.
Lawyers claim harassers can also be unfairly treated and, to avoid paying out to them as well as their victims, "positive steps" need to be taken.
Barnett Alexander Chart employment specialist Ruth Harvey points to the recent Employment Appeals Tribunal case of Dixon Stores v Dwan and O'Byrne, which found an employer had unfairly dismissed two staff members after they performed a "lewd" act at an office Christmas party.
The judgement stated that although the employees had behaved like "immature schoolboys" the dismissal of the staff members was not within the range of "reasonable responses" open to employers.
Harvey says while employers need to clearly define sexual harassment to staff as "misconduct or gross misconduct", they must also treat "unfounded" and "deliberately malicious" allegations of harass ment as disciplinary offences.
She says employers should draw up an equal opportunities policy referring directly to sexual harassment, and staff should be trained to deal with the issue. Disciplinary proceedings should adhere to ACAS rules.
"It is only by implementing such measures that employers are likely to avoid liability," says Harvey.
Dibb Lupton Broomhead's London employment partner Jill Andrew says the case emphasises the need for proper procedures to be followed in sexual harassment cases.
"The temptation can be to react without proper investigation and regard to the procedures that need to be followed both with regard to the victim and to the offender."