Sexual harassment in the workplace can lead to a hostile working culture and impacts employee mental wellbeing. 7th February – 13th February is Sexual Harassment and Sexual violence week which aims to break the stigma of sexual harassment and to encourage victims to step forward.
Sexual harassment is defined in equality legislation as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or
offensive environment for that individual.’
The UK Government have been consulting on sexual harassment in the workplace and have published their response, highlighting there is a real and worrying issue with sexual harassment in the workplace. From the results the UK Government will be taking steps to increase liability of employers in such incidents.
What is considered sexual harassment?
- Gesturing or making sexual remarks about someone’s body, clothing, or appearance, as well as flirting with colleagues.
- Questioning a person about their sex life
- Sexually offensive jokes
- Sexual comments or jokes about someone’s sexual orientation or gender reassignment
- Showing or sharing pornographic or sexual images, or other sexual content
- Touching someone against their will, this includes hugging them
- Sexual assault or rape
CIPD conducted research in 2020 which highlighted 4% of employees had experienced sexual harassment within the workplace over the previous 3 years; 8% of claimants aged between 18-34 would report these experiences compared to only 4% of aged 35–44-years-
Managing sexual harassment in the workplace
Employers have a duty of care and can be legally liable for sexual harassment if it is deemed that they haven’t taken the correct measures to reduce the risk of it occurring in the workplace.
Those employees who have experienced harassment or bullying in the workplace can go onto to have mental health issues and their productivity can decrease. Employers will need to continually support the employee who has experience of this, check out our blog on supporting employee’s mental health for further guidance.
The ‘Response’ from the UK Government is to include statutory code of practice for harassment in the workplace, which will help employers manage sexual harassment more effectively.
The code of practice has been proposed to include the below:
- Increase of time limits from three months to six months for bringing claims under the Equality Act 2010
- We may see the reintroduction of protections for employees against third-party harassment
- Employers will have a priority to reviewing and implementing anti-harassment policies
- Improvements to workplace culture to prevent harassment or discrimination acts
- Providing training to all employees will be a minimum for preventing sexual harassment and raising awareness for spotting the signs of harassment.
- Employers will have to take all complaints of harassment seriously, including investigating incidents in line with company policies and procedures
- Encouragement for a proactive outlook on sexual harassment will be key to the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace rather than after the event occurs.
Any proof of harassment or discriminatory behaviour in the workplace should be investigated immediately, whilst portraying a message that there is a zero-tolerance policy within the working environment. All employees have the right to be treated with respect in the workplace, and many find it difficult to recover from acts of sexual harassment leading to many quitting their jobs.
How employers can prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
- Zero tolerance policy
- Sexual harassment policy within employee contracts
- Multiple options for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace
- Formal procedure
- Training employees on identifying and understanding harassment indicators
- Risk assessments i.e., power imbalances
- Anonymous surveys
- Formal investigations of all reports
Employees must be able to speak to a manager or supervisor in confidence regarding any incidents of harassment and discrimination, employers should have clear processes and procedures for who has had training and where employees can turn to for support. Employees should be made aware who these employees are.
Many employees feel they can not report incidents due to fear of losing their jobs, especially if the individual being inappropriate has threatened the victim due to being senior. Furthermore, companies need to do more so the victim feels comfortable after reporting the incident, as in many cases they feel uncomfortable remaining in the environment once trust is broken.
How we can help
Our HR experts can assist with guidance on harassment and misconduct policies to protect your business and employees. The team can also assist and support in investigations of any such incidents providing you with clear steps and procedures for carrying out the investigation.
Contact us today for guidance on sexual harassment policies.
Call: 0800 111 4461
Email: [email protected]