'Indecent proposal' to hairdresser: what are your rights?

haidresserKai Remmers/DPA/Press Association Images

A trainee hairdresser has taken her boss to an employment tribunal, claiming sex and race discrimination. The hearing is still in progress, so there has been no ruling on her claims, however they include an 'indecent proposal' to pay her for sex.

So what is she claiming, and what are your rights?

The case

Maryam Mashayekhi, 34, says the manager of a Tony and Guy shop in Pinstone Street, Sheffield, Christopher Story, 39, bullied and harassed her while she was working as a trainee between May and November 2010 - at which point she was signed off work with depression.

She has alleged a number of humiliating incidents, including him offering her £10,000 for sex while they were styling a bride's hair for her wedding day. She also says he called her a prostitute in front of friends, and asked "do you do it doggy style" because she was Iranian. She adds that she was called a 'slave' because she was working for less than the minimum wage, and a 'scrounger' for claiming benefits because of her low wages.

Story says these allegations, and the others she has made, are all untrue. He said her claim that he offered to pay her for sex was "wildly inaccurate and extremely offensive".

Your rights

While this case is ongoing it is impossible speculate about it. However, it comes at a time when attention in the UK has been turned to sexual harassment. The Council of Europe has been working on a convention on violence against women which includes a harassment clause, and David Cameron is committed to signing it.

It reinforces existing sexual discrimination legislation, which already gives women and men a number of rights. Caroline Harper, employment law expert and founder of Your Employment Matters says: "Both sexual harassment and sex discrimination are a breach of employment rights and should not be tolerated. Such cases can be taken to the employment tribunals."

According to the Industrial Society over 50% of women have suffered sexual harassment, and almost one in ten men. The most common form is non-verbal, such as staring or whistling, followed by verbal, including jokes. Physical harassment is less common, but still one in five report unwanted physical contact.

Many people think they have to live with it. However, Citizens Advice makes it clear that no-one should have to. Its advice is to start with the person involved, and tell them to stop, adding: "Only do this if you feel it is safe. You may find it helpful to have a colleague or trade union representative with you when you do this."

The next step is to tell a manager is it happening, put it in writing and keep a copy. If they are the person harassing you, tell someone further up the organisation. You should also inform the Human Resources department.

Finally, if your employer fails to take action, seek advice from someone like Citizen's Advice or a legal expert.
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