December 3, 2017

Sexual Harassment – What Are You Doing About It?

With the number of sexual harassment cases currently in the news, you may be under the impression that such claims and allegations only occur in Hollywood, the media or Parliament, but think again.

These cases may well be prominent, and have highlighted issues that may or may not be prevalent in the workplace, but is your business or organisation protected? And do you have the right support/policies in place?

A UK-wide problem

Recent media exposure of film directors such as Harvey Weinstein, actors such as Kevin Spacey, and MPs would have us believe that sexual harassment is only committed by ‘powerful’ men and does not happen in an ordinary workplace.

But through the Everyday Sexism Project the Trades Union Congress found that 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work, including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes.

It found that around one in eight women reported unwanted sexual touching of their breasts, buttocks or genitals, or attempts to kiss them at work.

A fifth said they had been harassed by their boss or someone else with authority over them and about 1% said they had been raped or seriously sexually assaulted in their workplace.

Many women and young or vulnerable workers (including boys) do not report incidents of sexual harassment for a number reasons: they want to keep their job, fear, embarrassment, or a sense of powerlessness (to name but a few).

What can you do as an employer?

All employers should promote a working environment in which diversity is recognised, valued and encouraged. In addition, all employees should not be in fear or intimated in the workplace.

Therefore, they should know their rights and where to seek and obtain help where they believe sexual harassment has occurred.

Harassment in the workplace is a discriminatory act, which in any form is unacceptable and should be made clear to each employee whether senior, junior, or the directors or owner of the business.

It is an employer’s duty to treat people with respect and to ensure others in the workplace or visitors treat people likewise, including appreciating their feelings and considering their well being in what they say or do.

What may be acceptable to one person may upset and/or intimidate another.

Bullying and harassment take many forms and can range from relatively mild banter to actual physical violence. It can be delivered in many ways and your policy should apply to all forms of communication including text messages, email and comments posted on social networking sites.

Considering the media’s attention to the recent allegations of sexual harassment, it is important that you look at your policies and processes again, the culture of your business/organisation and consider whether support is in place for acts of a sexual harassment nature can be easier reported, taken seriously and accordingly resolved.

Acts of a sexual harassment nature not only makes the subject feel powerless – they may also amount to a criminal offence and can be costly to the business.

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About the author

Francis Scoon

Francis has over 20 years’ experience of Employment Law and HR related issues gained in both large public and private organisations. As well as representing SMEs, Francis has worked in the Employment Department of a large regional law firm, advising preparing and representing cases on behalf of claimants. Before joining Moorepay, Francis was a Senior Advocate where, in addition to maintaining a caseload of employment tribunal cases covering all aspects of employment law, he managed a team of advocates and an administrator.