Call Leeds: (0113) 280 2000

Call Sheffield : (0114) 276 6607

Call York : (01904) 611 411

x

No grey areas in responsibilities over women's sex-and-bondage novel craze, lawyer warns

by Lupton Fawcett LLP on July 12, 2012

in News

Businesses need a comprehensive strategy for combatting work-connected gossip, emails and texts inspired by top-selling erotic novel, The Fifty Shades of Grey, or risk being open to sexual harassment claims, says aYorkshire employment law specialist.

Employers need a comprehensive human resources strategy guiding office, electronic media and social networking banter about the explicit story of bondage, discipline and sado-masochism which could create a degrading environment that could leave bosses liable for sexual harassment under the Equality Act, says Angela Gorton, a director at Yorkshire law firm, Lupton Fawcett.

The Fifty Shades of Grey by British woman author E L James, which has already sold 20m copies through publishing rights in 37 countries, has been described as ‘the pornification of literature’. The novel is the fastest–ever selling paperback, even outstripping Harry Potter, and has become a widespread topic for the broadcast and print media, much of which focuses on women saying how it has re-vitalised their sex lives.

Angela Gorton says that the huge popularity of the highly-graphic book is sparking open workplace discussions which add a complex new dimension to how employers must address sexual harassment, largely because it has become a mainstream talking point among women.

She says: “As this book is the talk of the town it will also be the talk of the workplace. Businesses accept that traditional forms of discrimination and harassment such as displaying pictures of naked women in a Pirelli wall calendar or men occasionally furtively accessing porn online are no longer acceptable at work but this novel has apparently made open discussions about sexual exploits more acceptable. It is an issue on which we have already had contact from employers.

“While no one is suggesting that free-speech should be curtailed, employees need to be sensitive to others. Apart from the fact that such talk can be disruptive, there is the risk of creating a hostile or degrading environment in which bosses would be liable if, for example, a junior male colleague feels humiliated or finds it offensive.”

Angela Gorton says that liability can extend beyond the workplace due to the merger between home and work through social networking sites such as Facebook.  The risks of liability for bullying a colleague outside work for being prudish, or for living an alternative lifestyle as set out in the book, can be managed through  comprehensive HR strategies.

She adds: “There have been cases where someone who discussed their role at a swingers club on a social networking site was subsequently bullied by colleagues and the same could go for this book. Likewise, for company-run book clubs, employers need accompanying literature, drawn up by those running the club, warning that the novel is not company-sanctioned and may contain violent or sexual information and that borrowers read at their own risk.

“Compensation for discrimination claims are unlimited in value and can be lucrative. Bosses can ill afford such claims, particularly in the current economic climate and the excitement about this novel is a genuine threat.”

Angela Gorton adds that, as a baby boom is expected as a result of the revitalisation of women’s sex lives after reading the novel and the depressing summer weather, many employers should also brush up on their understanding of maternity rights.

_____________________________________________

Leave a Reply


six + 4 =