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What should an employer do if an employee alleges sexual harassment by a colleague?

If an employer becomes aware of an incident of sexual harassment in the workplace, they must make every effort to stop it. An employer must ensure that employees are protected from gender-based harassment and sexual harassment in the working environment (clause 11 (1) 4) of the Gender Equality Act).

An employer is responsible for failure to perform the duty of care if the employer is aware or should reasonably be aware that harassment related to the sex of a person or sexual harassment has occurred and fails to apply the necessary measures to terminate such harassment (clause 6 (2) 5) of the Gender Equality Act).

The idea behind the employer’s duty of care is that employers must ensure that employees are provided with a working environment free from gender-based and sexual harassment.

In order to prevent sexual harassment, an employer can prohibit, in a workplace policy or other document, conduct that could lead to sexual or gender-based harassment. For example, the employer can set out a mandatory code of conduct, a procedure for handling complaints and remedies that are applied in the case of harassment.

It’s important that employees know that they have the right to complain, who victims of sexual harassment can go to and what they need to do to get help. It’s also important to explain to employees that they are protected against any negative consequences of making a complaint. The employer’s response must also ensure that, in the event of a potential false complaint, the rights of the employee against whom the false complaint was made are protected.

Above all, most of the people being harassed want the harassment to stop. In order to perform the duty of care, the employer must determine the circumstances of the incident. If the investigation reveals that sexual harassment has occurred, steps must be taken to stop the harassment. Examples of remedies include having a conversation with the harasser, changing work arrangements, work schedules or the location of desks so that the harasser and the harassed person no longer have to come into contact at work. In doing so, the employer must refrain from worsening the working conditions of the harassed person.

If the situation cannot be resolved, you can turn to the Equality Commissioner, the Labour Inspectorate or the police. If sexual harassment is confirmed, the victim has the right to receive separate damages for discrimination.

This explanation does not constitute legal aid in a specific case. Therefore, if you feel that you have been treated unequally, but you did not find a solution to your problem in this article, or if you have a question, please contact the Equality Commissioner by e-mail at avaldus@volinik.ee or telephone +372 626 9059. The anonymity of the person is guaranteed when contacting the Commissioner.