A recent study by the BBC claimed that within the UK workforce more than half of women and a fifth of men have been victims of sexual harassment at some point in their working lives. Of these individuals, 63% of women and 79% of men kept the incident to themselves and did not open up about it. However, with powerful social media campaigns such as #MeToo and #WithYou, individuals now have more platforms to speak out about the harassment they have experienced.
Under the Equality Act of 2010, victims of sexual harassment are legally protected and should feel able to bring up harassment issues with their manager or HR department as soon as possible. Is your business doing everything it can to protect its staff? Would you know if your business had a sexual harassment issue?
What should an employer do with a case of sexual harassment?
Firstly, ensure that all employees understand that inappropriate behaviour within the workplace will not be tolerated. Secondly, encourage employees to speak up and inform their manager and the offender of the incident; the offender may not be aware that their actions and behaviour are inappropriate. Thirdly, employers need to respond quickly to such complaints, initially informally if appropriate but then move to formal internal procedures.
If internal procedures are not properly followed, or do not resolve the situation, the employee has the right to make a claim to an employment tribunal, as long as the claim is made within three months of the alleged act. Prevention of sexual harassment is ultimately better then attempting to resolve it.
The key to dealing with workplace sexual harassment
Employers need to create a culture of protection and support for victims of sexual harassment and one that does not tolerate unacceptable behaviour by any members of staff. Here are some steps employers can take to prevent sexual harassment within the workplace:
Carry out harassment training for staff and managers. This will not only ensure everyone is aware of unacceptable behaviours but also enable individuals to spot if colleagues are acting in an inappropriate manner.
Monitor emails and other forms of communication to uncover examples of inappropriate content. However, employers need to make employees aware that their communications are being monitored.
Create and consistently communicate a clear harassment policy, ensuring it is visible and accessible to all. Line managers should be champions of these policies and actively promote appropriate behaviours and values so that all employees feel they work in an enjoyable and safe environment.
Ensure employees understand that any allegation they bring forward will be dealt with in a swift and professional manner and will be kept confidential. Many victims who have not brought their harassment issues forward have not done so due to ‘fear’ of ramifications.
Employers regularly claim that their greatest assets are their employees, therefore it is imperative that employees feel safe and protected at work and that employers recognise their duty of care to protect and support employees against actions of inappropriate behaviour.
For further guidance and advice tailored to your situation, please reach out to the Buzzacott HR Consultancy team.