The Employment Equality Act (1998 – 2011) explicitly provides that sexual harassment and other harassment on legally defined discriminatory grounds is unlawful and constitutes discrimination, contrary to the legislation.
Employers may also be liable under the legislation, in respect of harassment occurring in the course of employment, whether or not it occurs with the employer’s knowledge or approval. However, the legislation also provides that it shall be a defence for an employer to show that reasonably practicable steps were taken to prevent the harassment.
It is important to distinguish harassment, including sexual harassment, from normal social interaction at work involving mutually acceptable behaviour.
It is unlawful to treat a person less favourably than another person on grounds of gender or sexual orientation in matters relating to employment, whether in the workplace or otherwise in the course of employment. Sexual harassment creates an unpleasant and intimidating work environment, threatens job security and undermines equality in the workplace. It is a form of discrimination and every effort should be made to eliminate it.
The Employment Equality Act (1998 -2011) defines sexual harassment as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.
Such conduct may include acts, requests, spoken words, gestures or the production, display or circulation of written words, pictures or material.
Discrimination may also arise if a person is treated differently in the course of his/her employment, by virtue of his/her acceptance or rejection of the sexual harassment.
Other Harassment on Specified Discriminatory Grounds
The Employment Equality Act (1998) states that harassment (as outlined above) whether in the workplace or otherwise in the course of employment may constitute discrimination contrary to the legislation in circumstances where:
- the harassment arises from an employee's civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, age, disability, race or membership of the traveller community; and
- the harassment is unwelcome and could reasonably be regarded as offensive, humiliating or intimidating to the employee concerned.
Any member who considers that s/he is being discriminated against should contact his/her CEC District Representative or INTO Head Office with a view to referring a complaint to the Equality Tribunal or Labour Court, as the case may be.
Further guidance on this issue can be found in the Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work (PDF), issued by the Equality Authority 2002. The Code has been given legal effect in the Statutory Instrument entitled Employment Equality Act 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order 2002 (SI No. 78 of 2002).