In a dramatic wake-up call for the legal profession to examine its culture and working practices, the preliminary findings of a recent International Bar Association (IBA) survey, revealed in October 2018, found that bullying and sexual harassment are rife.
According to more than 5,000 lawyers in 120 jurisdictions, one-third of male lawyers and half of female lawyers have been bullied at work, while 25% of all lawyers, predominantly female, have been sexually harassed, and 36% of them have experienced this in the last year.
Such misbehaviour needs to be addressed urgently, rather than being swept under the carpet, particularly in the wake of the magnificent #MeToo movement, which has given victims, previously silent or fearful of raising a complaint, the courage to speak out.
Despite what has already been achieved, alternative methods of resolving these issues are still prevalent, conveniently avoiding any confrontation or potential damage to the miscreant’s career.
Of course, the problem extends well beyond law firms; bullying and sexual harassment are ubiquitous in society at large. Turning the tables: Ending sexual harassment at work, published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in March 2018, found that three-quarters of respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.
It is in every employer’s best interests to undertake appropriate proactive steps to tackle these issues forcefully. Under the Equality Act 2010, vicarious liability provisions mean that an employer can be liable for anything done by an employee during the course of their employment, even if the employer had no knowledge of it. The result of a successful claim for liability can lead to an award of potentially unlimited compensation.
I would urge organisations to deal with sexual harassment and bullying head on. Failure to act not only creates a toxic environment with the risk of provoking a costly claim, but is certain to affect the profitability and success of the business.
Hina Belitz is a specialist employment lawyer at Excello Law