Sexual Harassment – 5 steps to protect your employees

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Harvey Weinstein – once known for producing films such as Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love, more recently known as the alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment, assault and rape towards numerous women in the film industry. Women such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Lena Headey are amongst the many that have come forward to share their story about Weinstein’s workplace behaviour.In a recent poll conducted by Opinum Research, one in five women said that they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. The same poll revealed that 58 per cent of women who have experienced sexual harassment did not report it to their company.

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and is defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which violates your dignity, makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated and creates a hostile or offensive environment. This covers numerous acts including asking sexual questions, unwanted touching, whistling in a sexual manner and sending suggestive emails at work. Employers will be vicariously liable for acts of sexual harassment by their employees during the course of their employment. Employers will therefore need to ensure that they take all reasonable steps to protect their employees from harassment in the workplace.

Now that the media has raised awareness on sexual harassment in the work place, are more employees going to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment?

We have put together 5 steps an employer can take to protect their employees from sexual harassment in the workplace:

  1. Policy – Enforce a sexual harassment policy in your workplace. Make sure your employees have regular training on harassment and discrimination so they know exactly what is and what is not acceptable. Add sexual harassment training into your new starter’s induction, this will help you keep track of who has and has not had training and will enforce your policies from the outset.
  2. Reporting – Make sure your employees know specifically who to report to if they experience or have experienced sexual harassment in the work place. Make sure you train your managers in how to deal with complaints of sexual harassment as it is a very sensitive issue. Employees need to feel comfortable reporting their concerns to someone they can trust and believe will take them seriously.
  3. Investigate – If a complaint has been raised by an employee of sexual harassment, make sure it is investigated thoroughly. The complaint must be investigated promptly and objectively. The complainant should feel like they are being listened to. Try and gather as much evidence as possible. Witness statements are very valuable to establish the circumstances of the complaint before reaching a final conclusion.
  4. Disciplinary – If a complaint is so serious that it cannot be resolved informally, it may be decided that the issue is a disciplinary issue which needs to be dealt with formally. It is very important that the procedure you follow is fair and prompt. If you believe that serious harassment has taken place, suspension of the alleged harasser should be considered. If in doubt, revert back to the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures which set out principles for handling disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace.
  5. Options – Counselling or training may be a suitable option initially to consider if the complaint  is less serious. In more serious cases; written warnings, final written warnings, transfers or termination of contracts for gross misconduct may be more appropriate.

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