Under the Equality Act 2010, sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination.
Everyone has the right to be protected from sexual harassment in the workplace, and incidents are covered by both employment and criminal law. Despite this, a significant amount of women and men are experiencing it in the workplace.
As an employer, there are steps you can take to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and support victims, if it does occur.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which violates a worker’s dignity, makes them feel intimidated, degraded, or humiliated, or creates a hostile or offensive environment.
Harassment can include sexual comments or jokes, physical behaviour, displaying pictures, photos, or drawings of a sexual nature, or sending emails with sexual content.
Sexual harassment policy
It’s important to ensure that your company has a sexual harassment policy that makes it clear that it will not be tolerated and any complaints will be investigated. This can help prevent instances of sexual harassment occurring in the first place.
There should be a clear process for raising a complaint, and who it should be raised to, and this should be communicated to all staff to ensure that everyone within the organisation understands how to raise a concern and what will happen next.
It’s also important that management staff are trained in how to implement the relevant policies and effectively deal with complaints when they arise.
Culture of equality
As well as having a clear policy in place, it’s also important that you foster a workplace culture that supports gender equality and that employees, both male and female, feel that are able to speak up and challenge inappropriate behaviour.
As an organisation, you should also actively promote the importance of respect amongst employees at every level, while empowering employees to speak up.
Dealing with complaints of sexual harassment
Complaints of this kind are incredibly serious so it’s important that you handle them fairly and sensitively.
Any evidence or complaint of harassment or discrimination among your staff needs to be investigated and acted upon thoroughly and quickly. A clear message should be sent out that this behaviour will not be tolerated.
How the complaint is dealt with will depend upon the nature of the complaint and how serious it is.
It is important that all concerns or complaints are reported to the HR and a manager or supervisor as soon as possible. Management should then conduct an immediate and impartial investigation, before taking appropriate action.
All complaints of this nature should be treated confidentially as far as possible, with the information being disclosed on a strict, need-to-know basis.
HR plays a central role in building a workplace culture that is inclusive, transparent, and effectively deals with any complaints of sexual harassment. To find out more about sexual harassment in the workplace, and how to deal with issues that may arise, please get in touch today.