A paralegal has succeeded in her workplace harassment claim after experiencing inappropriate touching and comments from an experienced solicitor. Below, we discuss what exactly happened in the case. Then, we explore the reality of sexual harassment in the legal sector and why employees might not speak up.
The Employment Law Review publishes the latest news in the sector. So, sign up for our newsletter now to ensure you don’t miss any future updates. You can do so by clicking the button at the top.
Solicitor Slaps Buttocks and asks “Is That Sexual Harassment”?
A 21-year-old paralegal recalled to a tribunal the workplace harassment she’d experienced from a solicitor at SPG Law. Musharaf Javid Asharaf had been a lawyer for nearly 25 years and held the position of office manager at the law firm. He was also responsible for the paralegals’ well-being at the firm.
The paralegal spoke about how Mr Asharaf would rub her shoulders daily, making her feel awkward and uncomfortable. She discussed one occasion when he slapped her bottom in a corridor when walking past her. When she turned and asked what he’d just done, the solicitor asked, “Is that sexual harassment?”.
She was financially insecure at the time, meaning she didn’t report the incident for fear of ‘rocking the boat’. Also, during a Christmas party, Mr Asharaf commented on the paralegal saying they were “like two “Mountains on your chest”.
Then, she claimed he’d initially bumped his crotch into her bottom in January 2019. She added he said, “It’s your fault for having such a fat…” before stopping, stating he didn’t want to get into trouble. Subsequently, despite previously not reporting the legal professional to HR, this incident led to her doing so.
However, the solicitor denied these allegations, claiming the paralegal had “sought revenge” and was “trying to make his life hell”. He explained this was because he’d issued her with written warnings concerning her conduct. The tribunal dismissed the lawyer, ruling the paralegal’s events to be truthful. They reasoned his actions were sexually motivated, and her claims were consistent with the complaint made in 2019.
As a result, Mr Asharaf has been suspended from practising as a solicitor for 12 months. Furthermore, he’s been ordered to pay £17,500 and indefinitely barred from managerial roles at any regulated firm.
Two in Five Solicitors have Experienced Workplace Harassment
Unfortunately, the actions of the solicitor above aren’t uncommon. Many women have experienced workplace harassment, with the Trades Union Congress discovering the number to be three in five women.
Within the legal sector, Culture Shift, the “for positive change” technology company, found that two in five lawyers have experienced bullying, discrimination or harassment at work. What’s more, the Solicitors Regulation Authority reported that from 2018 to 2022, there were 251 sexual misconduct reports made. Worryingly, they stated that only 30 reports had been made in the five years before 2018.
Therefore, it’s evident that sexual harassment at work, along with other forms of harassment, is present in the legal sector. Despite this, it’s been said that reports of such incidents are low, and below, we discuss why that might be.
Why Employees at Law Firms Could be Fearful of Speaking Up
Aside from the number of legal professionals who’ve experienced workplace harassment, Culture Shift found that only 30% have reported such incidents. This could be for several reasons. For starters, employees may feel uncomfortable reporting an incident to their employer, especially if it involves a senior solicitor.
Furthermore, an employee may fear their complaint wouldn’t be taken seriously or people may question the seriousness of what they’ve experienced. This could unfortunately occur if workplaces establish a, as Culture Shift puts it, this is “how things are” environment.
Moreover, an employee may believe their workplace has inadequate procedures to report an incident or be unsure how to proceed. Alternatively, like in the above case, the employee may be worried about their job security if they make a complaint.
Regardless of the reason, employers in the sector should create an environment where legal professionals feel comfortable reporting such incidents. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work and want legal advice, contact Redmans Solicitors now. They are employment law specialists and could discuss your circumstances before advising on how to proceed.
If you want the latest news in the employment law sector, sign up for our newsletter now!