Co-working spaces – what owners/operators should be doing to combat sexual harassment 


Our team: Caroline Philipps, Michelle Waknine


Harvey Weinstein, Philip Green, Ray Kelvin, the founder of clothing brand “Ted Baker” – three big names and three big stories, as sexual harassment in the workplace continues to make headlines in the news.

As the #MeToo movement gains momentum, a new voice is now making itself heard; that of the people who share co-working spaces, who feel the law doesn’t provide them with sufficient protection against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The law does protect employees against harassment by their colleagues, and employers can also be liable for acts of harassment by their employees, even if it is committed without the employer’s knowledge or approval. However, occupiers in co-working spaces often work for themselves and are left with little protection against harassment from other co-working occupiers.

Businesses that have failed to take action to proactively tackle sexual harassment have received considerable press attention, and reputations have suffered as result (the President’s Club male-only charity event hosted at the Dorchester in 2018 being one example). Co-working operators may feel that it is not their responsibility, but it is very likely to become so. Taking steps to address the issue of harassment is recommended, to avoid allegations that this issue has not been addressed and the PR nightmare that can ensue – even if it isn’t, strictly speaking, legally required.

So what should co-working spaces do?  

  • Notify occupiers that harassment is unlawful and will not be tolerated – for example, displaying clear signs and notices around the co-working space;
  • Put an anti-harassment policy in place and make sure it is easily accessible to all occupiers (covering, in particular, guidelines for acceptable behaviour and conduct and the process for making complaints);
  • Express terms should be included in the occupation agreement between the co-working space provider and the occupier, requiring the co-workers to adhere to the harassment policy. It should also be made clear that breach of this policy will give rise to a ban of the relevant individuals from the co-working space, or, termination of the occupation agreement completely;
  • Investigate complaints promptly and proactively, which may include interviewing the complainant and any witnesses, and considering whether it is appropriate to take temporary measures pending the outcome of the investigation (such as relocating or suspending the alleged harasser(s));
  • Take appropriate action following an investigation, such as issuing a formal warning to the individual(s) and/or their superior about their behaviour or, in serious cases, banning them from the premises or terminating a tenancy/occupation agreement with them; and
  • Ensure investigations are carried out with sensitivity and in a confidential manner, and that care is taken to ensure GDPR compliance (in particular, individuals not involved in the complaint or the investigation should not be informed about it).

 

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