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What should the employer do if there is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual relations at work can lead to a happy union, but also to relationship drama and harassment. Any sexually degrading and oppressive activity, such as making inappropriate comments, promising benefits for sexual services, etc., is considered sexual harassment (clause 3 (1) 5) of the Gender Equality Act). Intimate relationships between the manager and subordinates are particularly difficult as one party has power over the other. Every employer has an important role to play here in preventing and ending harassment.

In order to prevent harassment, it is advisable to establish internal rules that clearly state how to act in the event of an intimate relationship. For example, a rule that obliges an employee to disclose their intimate relationship with a colleague prevents corruption and unequal treatment. In the absence of internal rules and if harassment has already occurred, it is the employer’s responsibility to hear out all parties and potential witnesses. All interviews must be recorded in case the case is referred to the Labour Inspectorate or the police.

In addition, employees need to be reminded of the fact that commitment to work is important, the basis of which is a calm work environment. It is possible that there was a misunderstanding between the parties involved in the harassment and that reconciliation can be achieved with the help of the employer. If reconciliation and understanding is not possible and the harassing party continues with their activity, the employer has an obligation to take appropriate measures to ensure a working environment in which no employee feels unequally treated. It is up to the employer to decide what measures to use, but the objective is clear: to ensure a situation where economic benefits are generated without loss of human dignity.

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.