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How to Prevent and Manage Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The increased awareness about Sexual Harassment in the workplace has been a top discussion point in recent months with our clients.

As campaigns like ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘#MeToo’ have gained momentum, so too has the appetite and potential for a more legislative approach to protecting employees in the workplace.  The Equalities and Human Rights Commission have published a report called ‘Turning the tables: ending sexual harassment at work’ which makes a number of recommendations for things like a statutory code of practice and extended periods to bring a Sexual Harassment claim at tribunal.

I have been approached by a number of employers who have asked questions, such as:

  • What do we do if someone claims they have been sexually harassed in the office?
  • How do we handle it?
  • How do we support the employee?
  • How do we support the person alleged of this misconduct?
  • How do I protect myself from a false claim?
  • Should I not conduct 1-1 meetings on my own anymore?

I have also been asked by employers why those affected may not come forward.  There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Embarrassment
  • Shame
  • Not sure who to speak to
  • Afraid if they say anything it will cause trouble
  • Fear of further victimisation by the perpetrator or and/or colleagues
  • Fear they may lose their job or halt their progression in the company for speaking up
  • May not want to speak to their male line manager (if female) and vice versa
  • Fear their family/partners might mind out
  • Concern that their complaint won’t be taken seriously

Following on from our Metro Mythbuster on Sexual Harassment we thought it might be useful to give you some practical suggestions on how to address this topical issue:

  • Understand and embrace your responsibilities as an employer rather than hope it never happens on your watch;
  • Ensure your policies and procedures include anti-harassment, which not only covers harassment and bullying in the workplace, but sexual harassment specifically;
  • Ensure your policy and your employees are clear about what sexual harassment is and what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour. No doubt that hard to define word ‘banter’ will crop up;
  • Perhaps you could develop a team charter or code of appropriate behaviour to get everyone to input to, if the team have had a say, they are more likely to adopt it;
  • Reference anti-harassment in other policies such as including the consequences of sexually harassing someone in your disciplinary policy and providing clear guidance on how to report such incidences in the grievance policy
  • Add to induction programmes and checklists, get the dialogue going from day one and outline your company approach for newbies;
  • Provide guidance and training to line managers so they understand the company approach and can support an employee that makes a complaint;
  • Consider how you could support an employee that makes a complaint, perhaps provide access to a counsellor or employee assistance programmes;
  • Take allegations seriously and ensure experienced managers investigate them thoroughly, communicate that commitment to do this;
  • You may even like to use an external provider to give employees an independent and impartial person to report their concerns to.

If you would like to discuss this in more detail and find how Metro HR can help with their dedicated reporting service or to help you get your policies and process in shape then please get in touch at hello@metrohr.co.uk

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