26 January 2018 by

Stop Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – what should employers be doing?

Are organisations doing enough to combat sexual harassment at work? We seem unable to turn on the news recently without there being another scandal hitting the headlines. Whether it is Hollywood, Westminster or the City, recent research shows that 1 in 5 women has been victim of sexual harassment at work. The recent scandals have highlighted how often it is difficult for those affected to speak up and allow something to be done.  What then should employers be doing?

The workplace environment

Employees need to feel confident that if they do speak up, that something will be done and that they will be treated sympathetically and not ignored particularly if, say, the complaint is about a senior manager. Ensuring that such a culture exists will need to start at “the top” and the key issue here is trust. If management can be trusted to do the right thing, then people will feel able to raise their concerns. Regardless of the number of people in the organisation, there need only be one complaint to land the employer in hot water.

In addition employers are legally responsible under the Equality Act for creating a safe work environment for staff and they do not need to be aware of inappropriate conduct in order to be liable.

Prevention

Organisations must show that reasonable steps have been taken to prevent harassment from occurring. Not only is this the right thing to do but financial awards for harassment are uncapped and so the financial impact on employers of getting it wrong can be significant.

Clear, robust and easily accessible policies on bullying and harassment are essential. Having specific policies to deal with such complaints will ensure that the approach is consistent, rigorous and compliant. Ensure that these policies are then linked in to the grievance and disciplinary policies and provide specific guidance on what to do in situations of harassment. For example, can harassment allegations be submitted as a grievance? What about when a complaint is made? Does management know what to do?

1. Training

Employers should go further than simply provide the policies. Having ensured that management know how to implement the policies, provide senior staff and managers with training – face to face training and online training courses are all frequently used methods of business training. The training can help staff to recognise and resolve potential harassment situations before claims are potentially commenced.

2. Documentation

Keep a record of training that has taken place and don’t forget that training ideally should be refreshed periodically. Signatures from staff indicating that training has been undertaken and “passed” make powerful evidence in the event of a complaint.

3. The complaint

It can be difficult for staff to make a sexual harassment complaint so think carefully who would be the best person to investigate any such complaint. Where a complaint is against a direct line manager then it would useful to suggest an alternative reporting line.

With this issue very much in the spotlight it seems likely that more scandals will come to light. Creating a positive workplace environment, having in place the correct policies, procedures and preventative measures should go a long way to ensuring the shocking statistics of harassment at work are reduced.

If you have any queries regarding this article or if you have any workplace needs, please contact one of our Employment Solicitors here.

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