In light of recent allegations within the film industry and the resulting outpour of information about sexual harassment in the workplace, it is necessary to look at these incidents from the perspective of an employer, but what do you need to know? How do you prevent or deal with these kinds of sensitive and difficult issues in your workplace?
Although it should not happen in the workplace, sexual harassment is common due to both employers and employees not understanding what can amount to sexual harassment and, in many cases, there being no procedure for employees to follow when it occurs, or allegations not being taken seriously.
The Equality Act 2010 states that sexual harassment is behaviour that is either meant to, or has the effect of violating dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
This can include, for example:
- Making frequent sexual remarks towards an employee, often waiting until the employee is alone
- Repeatedly touching or brushing past an employee
- Receiving sexually explicit e-mails
- Sexual comments or jokes
- Inquiring about an employee’s sex life or about their personal life
- Pestering an employee for a date
- Suggesting sexual favours or ways of dressing that might help their career
And do not think that sexual harassment only affects women, it can be just as common against men in the workplace.
As employers, you are responsible for preventing harassment, and are liable for any harassment suffered and therefore it is important that your employees are aware of what amounts to sexual harassment, what they can do if subject to harassment, and what steps you will take to prevent and deal with harassment.
Many organisations already have policies in place dealing with harassment but these should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they are current and they should, at the very least:
- Establish a clear grievance and disciplinary procedures consistent with the ACAS code of practice;
- Ensure that everyone is aware of the harassment policy and their responsibilities in relation to it;
- Provide a clear statement to staff and service users that harassment will not be tolerated and will be treated as disciplinary offences (up to and including dismissal or, if appropriate, criminal action) – together with information on how to report harassment;
- Be clear what constitutes unacceptable behaviour on the part of managers/other workers as well as service users or members of the public;
- Make clear that all parties involved will receive an impartial hearing and fair treatment and that the dignity and privacy of all will be protected, i.e. no information will be shared to parties not involved in the case;
- Make clear that false (i.e. malicious) accusations will not be tolerated and may result in disciplinary action;
- Include information as to how the policy is to be implemented, reviewed and monitored.