Following the #MeToo campaign sexual harassment continues to have momentum in the news and on social media, with many high-profile names, using different social media platforms to highlight the topic. This has been reported to be the reason for more employees reporting sexual harassment in the workplace and a recent BBC survey stated that of the people asked, half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work.
When defining harassment, the UK looks to the Equality Act 2010 for a definition. The Act describes it as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose and effect of violating the victim’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Unless it can be demonstrated that an employer took steps to stop an employee taking discriminatory action, an employer is responsible for the actions of employee’s during their employment, whether they had knowledge of the actions or not.
I’m getting the feeling that you’re thinking ‘That’s great but what do I actually do if one of my members of staff raises a sexual harassment matter?’.
First of all, don’t panic! It can be daunting if you have never dealt with sexual harassment complaint but keep calm and keep reading and we will guide you through.
‘It was just one email and it wasn’t anything that bad.’ It is important to treat each complaint seriously. Sexual harassment can come in lots of different forms such as comments, jokes, displaying pictures of a sexual nature, unwelcome sexual advances or emails which contain sexual content. An act can still be considered sexual harassment even if the harasser did not intend it to be and it does not have to be intentionally directed at a specific person.
Follow your company grievance and disciplinary procedures to address the complaint, and if your company doesn’t have one check out guides by ACAS online. Ensure that you deal with any complaint promptly and fairly.
Get prepared now. Make sure that your organisation is equipped and prepared to handle sexual harassment claim by ensuring there are clear policies in place, training is provided in the workplace on the matter and that action is taken if an allegation of sexual harassment is raised. Sexual harassment cases which are not dealt with properly can have costly consequences.
If you need any advice or assistance on the topic of sexual harassment or any other HR matters, contact the HR Team at Agility Risk & Compliance on 01527 571617.