Sexual harassment in the workplace

ended 27. September 2021

A journalist at the CMI (Chartered Management Institute) is looking for expert opinion on what employers can and should do when allegations or incidents of sexual harassment occur? What policies should be followed? How should it be dealt with?

2 responses from the Newspage community

Star Quote
"Many managers are woefully ill-equipped for dealing with claims of sexual (or indeed any form of) harassment. It’s something that is often swept under the carpet and some employers simply pretend it didn’t happen or try to minimise it. "According to a recent EHRC workplace sexual harassment study, employer responses to allegations of sexual harassment have ranged from the employee being told to avoid the perpetrator, that it's just part of the job or they were responsible for inviting the harassment by wearing tight clothing. "Many times I have had the difficult task of advising an employee that an allegation of sexual harassment has been made concerning them. As uncomfortable as it may be, my advice is get to the point, stick to the facts, not opinion, and be specific about what form the alleged harassment has taken (this will involve posing some embarrassing questions but is integral to justice). "Be prepared for anger and outbursts, listen without prejudice, be clear on how you will manage the investigation. Keep both parties informed and only ask witnesses as much as they need to know to corroborate facts and minimise the sharing of specifics. "Be swift but thorough: putting it in the too-hard-to-do pile is not an option, it has to be dealt with and taken seriously. Inertia is quite simply not an option."
As an employer under the Equality Act you are responsible for sexual harassment between your employees. You are also responsible for harassment of your employees from customers, in any work related environment or any online environments such as text messages and social media. Having a clear and robust sexual harassment policy, with an associated procedure that any employee can feel comfortable following, should be in place. This policy should clearly outline examples of sexual harassment, detail the disciplinary reprisals and consequences for such activity and a reminder of the legal implications. The grievance procedure should be committed to swift action and full investigation whilst ensuring confidentiality for the complainant in order to nurture a positive environment whereby the employee feels comfortable raising the issue. HR procedures are often in place to protect the company from the fall out of such actions. By law, complainants can be silenced and managed out of the business through compromise agreements where the complainant is ‘causing too much trouble’ or bringing the company’s reputation into question. This may contain individual cases, but it does not address company cultures that allow for further incidents to take place. In the spirit of the law on sexual harassment it should not be about containing a problem, but in eradicating an outmoded behaviour pattern. The culture of your workplace has many intangible elements that would need to be addressed in order to stamp out sexual harassment if this is something that happens frequently. Frequent occurrences by one or more individuals should be considered a business risk that needs addressing as a matter of priority. ‘From the top down’ strong messages of discouragement of the behaviours that lead to sexual harassment should be commonplace and soaked into the day to day culture of your working environment. Disciplinary proceedings should be brought against all employees working at all levels in the business, even if this means a member of the management team have a case brought against them. It is only by closing down all opportunities for individuals to engage in such behaviours that sexual harassment will be stamped out once and for all.