An alarming report hit the headlines this week in relation to sexual harassment in the workplace. The report revealed that one in three female surgeons working in the NHS who responded to the research said they have been sexually assaulted and two thirds of respondents said they have been sexually harassed by colleagues. The report acts as a stark reminder to employers that regretfully, harassment can occur in any work environment and the employer has a duty of care and responsibility to take action to safeguard their staff and in turn to protect their business from costly claims.
By creating an environment in which all employees feel secure, respected and valued organisations can not only minimise legal and financial risks but also enhance their reputation and employee satisfaction. In this article, we will explore effective strategies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
How is Sexual Harassment Defined?
Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that has either violated someone’s dignity or created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them (whether that was intended or not).
What Can Employers do to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
- Effective policies: a clear Equal Opportunities and Diversity Policy will set out the Company’s stance on promoting an environment free from harassment. The policy should cover the procedures you will follow to investigate and address any incidents of harassment that arise. Of course a policy can only be relied on if it is distributed to staff, reflected in the Company’s actions and reviewed and updated at appropriate intervals.
- Comprehensive training: The EHRC recommend anti-harassment training is provided to all staff, not just managers. It is good practice for this to be completed on induction and is an effective way of setting the expectations for your new staff. Records of who has received training should be kept with refreshers conducted at regular intervals. Managers should receive additional training to understand how to manage a report or complaint of harassment.
- Promoting an inclusive culture: Managers should lead by example in order to foster a culture that prioritises respect and supports open communication.
- Reporting mechanisms: Reporting mechanisms for dealing with complaints of harassment should be established and clearly communicated. This is typically covered in the Company’s policies, to include an alternative contact if the person who typically deals with such complaints is the alleged harasser.
- Whistleblowing protection: Reporting sexual harassment may amount to a protected disclosure. Employers should have in place policies to protect staff from detrimental treatment in these circumstances.
- Accountability: Reports of harassment must always be robustly investigated and where upheld, appropriate action taken. The Company must demonstrate that acts of harassment will not be tolerated.
- Support for those affected: Where harassment has occurred, the person subject to it must be offered appropriate support. In addition to appropriate action being taken the workplace to stop the behaviour, consideration should be given to the provision of counselling services, access to support groups and other adjustments within work that may be appropriate and beneficial.
- Monitoring: the Company should monitor complaints of sexual harassment received and action taken to ensure strategies in place to prevent harassment remain effective.
Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace should be a priority for any Company; both from a business perspective and a legal one. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to a loss of productivity, high staff turnover, an adverse effect on employee relations, reputational damage and costly litigation. By implementing these strategies and reviewing them at regular intervals, employers can demonstrate that they have taken appropriate action to promote a safer and more inclusive workplace.