Sexual relationships and sexual conduct in the workplace

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Abstract

This paper examines concerns raised by employers about consensual sexual relationships occurring at work. It begins by examining the link between sexual relationships and sexual harassment as a justification for regulating relationships, particularly hierarchical ones, and suggests that the willingness of employers, particularly in the USA, to prohibit or regulate relationships might be motivated by reasons other than a concern for women’s equality at work. Secondly, it argues that although recent changes to the law on sexual harassment in the UK might encourage employers to consider prohibiting or regulating sexual relationships here, there are countervailing legal principles to be considered, such as anti-discrimination law and privacy rights. Finally, it argues that there is a real problem of harassment when relationships end and that sex discrimination law should be directed to ensuring that unacceptable behaviour is not tolerated, rather than prohibiting consensual relationships.

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