Responsibilities on Schools to Prevent Harassment

The Equality Authority welcomes the highly significant recommendation made by the Labour Court which held that the school was directly liable for the sexual harassment of two teachers by pupils. The Labour Court also found in favour of the Equality Authority in holding that the failure of the school to exercise adequate control exposed all female teachers to the possibility of discrimination involving sexual harassment. It made awards totaling 30,000 euro to the female teachers.

“The case clearly establishes the principle the if a school and indeed any employer controls the situation in which harassment occurs and fails to exercise that control so as to prevent the harassment from occurring or in reducing the extent of it, they will be directly liable for having subjected the employee to the harassment”, stated Niall Crowley CEO of the Equality Authority. He added that “it highlights the importance of leadership within the school in terms of acknowledging problems when they arise. It emphasises the importance of working with staff to put in place necessary policies to prevent sexual harassment.”

In addition this decision will have implications not just for employees but also for pupils. Under the Equal Status Act 2000 schools must take steps to prevent pupils from being harassed on any of the nine grounds or sexually harassed. Schools’ policies and practices must reflect these obligations.

“Equality legislation has identified new responsibilities for schools – responsibilities which if fully exercised will make schools safer and more inclusive for all who currently experience inequality. Schools must as a matter of urgency put in place the necessary policies and practices to meet these new responsibilities” added Niall Crowley CEO of the Equality Authority.