Limiting Opportunities for Sexism in Social Activities
Sexism, or discrimination against individuals based on gender, is illegal in the United Kingdom under three key pieces of legislation: The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, The Equal Pay Act of 1970 and The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999. Due to the "vicarious liability" principle laws against sexism can also be extended to social activities if it is deemed that those in attendance are there in the course of their employment.
However, this legislation is unable to physically stop sexism from occurring in various settings so sexism does still exist. In fact, sexism and sexual harassment can become more prevalent during social activities at which employees don't consider themselves at work or feel that everyone should be more relaxed and able to "joke" than they would at the office.
Circulating a clear policy on sexism, advertising the consequences for sexism at social activities, providing examples of inappropriate comments and behaviours, selecting appropriate social activities and limiting the availability of alcohol can all help to limit opportunities for sexism in employment related social activities.
Circulating a Clear Policy on SexismWorkplaces which do not have a clear policy on sexism and sexual harassment need to formulate such a policy immediately. When a workplace takes a stand against sexism, in writing, and lets all employees know that discrimination based on gender is intolerable and illegal then there is less chance that others will overtly engage in sexism or carry offensive language and behaviours into workplace related social activities. If such a policy does already exist then employees should be reminded of it at appropriate intervals. Prior to social activities formally endorsed or hosted by (or at) the workplace, employees should be reminded that appropriate behaviour is expected in accordance with published policies on dignity and respect.
Advertising the Consequence of Sexism at Social ActivitiesWhether or not sexism which occurs at social activities should have consequences in the workplace can not always be guaranteed or even ascertained, but it certainly can lead to complaints, reports, tribunals and legal cases later. Sexism which occurs at an activity that is hosted by an employer or at a workplace in particular can lead to action after the event, so employers hosting social activities should make it clear that sexism and sexual harassment is just as intolerable at activities as it is in the office. If an employer has particular policies in place regarding the consequences of sexism at a social event then this policy should be circulated prior to the activity, otherwise it might be wise to remind all attendees that any form of discrimination or harassment at such events is unacceptable.
Providing Examples of Inappropriate Comments and BehavioursIt could be that employees are truly confused as to what could be considered sexism and/or sexual harassment in a social setting. Employers may find that hosting a seminar or putting together a special bulletin of examples of inappropriate comments and behaviours can help clear up this confusion. If neccessary, employing a legal consultant to draw up the examples or answer questions could also lend authority and gravity to the situation. However, it must be noted that offering examples may also mean offering "ammunition" if others choose to see it as such so the audience for such examples must be taken into account.
Selecting Appropriate Workplace Related Social ActivitiesA good way to limit opportunities for sexism is to select social activities which are appropriate for all employees. Location, activities and even roles assigned to employees (for example, if someone is asked to contribute food or take care of more manual labour because of gender) can all create circumstances in which sexism could occur.
Allowing employees to choose their own activities may be one way of limiting opportunities for discrimination, but this may also lead to a majority rule which does not necessarily take such factors into account. A good rule of thumb may be to host activities which are either more family friendly or require more dignity of the attendees, and to make sure that any extra work asked of employees is split equally across both genders.
Limiting the Availability of Alcohol at Workplace Related Social ActivitiesAlcohol in particular is a factor that can create sexism or sexual harassment at workplace related social activities. Alcohol consumption can lead to lowered inhibitions and regrettable words and actions. Employers should consider limiting the amount or type of alcohol available at their social activities if any form of discrimination or harassment is suspected. If this is not possible then advising all employees that the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption could affect their continued employment may be one way to remind everyone to act appropriately.
Employers could be liable for sexism or sexual harassment which occurs at workplace related social activities. Circulating a clear policy on sexism, advertising the consequences of sexism at social activities, providing examples of inappropriate comments and behaviours, selecting appropriate workplace related social activities and limiting the availability of alcohol are all ways in which opportunities for sexism can be limited at workplace related social activities.