Sexual Harassment in the workplace

News on 04 April 2018

Unless you’ve been hiding out on a desert island with no access to social media or news, you will have seen that sexual harassment in the workplace has been a hot topic in 2018. Celebrities and politicians have been named during the #metoo movement. People are coming forward and sharing their stories, bringing this issue closer to home for lots of us.

Facebook reported that within 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world engaged in the #metoo conversation.

What can we do to keep our workplace safe from behaviour that is not acceptable or appropriate?

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can be a number of different things. Most people just assume that it’s being touched inappropriately, but it’s not that straightforward.

Sexual harassment is any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. It has the purpose/effect of:

  • Violating the workers' dignity; and
  • Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for them.

Even if the alleged harasser didn’t mean for it to be, it can still be considered to be sexual harassment.

How does sexual harassment happen?

It can happen in a number of different ways. It can include any of the following:

  • Written or verbal comments of a sexual nature, such as remarks about an employee’s;
    • Appearance;
    • Questions about their sex life; and
    • Offensive jokes
  • Displaying pornographic or explicit images;
  • Emails or messages with content of a sexual nature;
  • Unwanted physical contact and touching; and
  • Sexual assault.

Sexual assaults and physical threats

There may be instances where you are made aware of sexual harassment that has resulted in a sexual assault or other physical threats. These are a criminal matter as well as an employment matter.

Criminal matters such as these should be reported to the Police.

Call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger or if the crime is in progress.

Call 101 to contact the Police if the crime is not an emergency.

Who can it happen to?

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone. At any time. In any place. Unfortunately, this means that it can happen at work.

The most common preconception is that only women are subject to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can also happen to men.

An individual can be sexually harassed by people of the same sex or the opposite sex.

What can I do to make the workplace safe for my employees?

First, have you got a policy on harassment? If not, don’t worry – we can help.

Once you have a policy in place, you need to educate your employees on what harassment is and what the consequences are.

Encourage an environment where people feel that they can discuss these issues with the Management team.

Any allegations of this nature should be taken seriously and handled in a fair and sensitive manner. Keep things confidential at all time. Unless someone needs to know, don’t discuss it.

Allegations need to be investigated thoroughly, ensuring that if there is any follow up action, you do this in a timely manner.

The cost of getting it wrong

If a complaint for sexual harassment is not dealt with properly, then it can ultimately end up in a tribunal claim. These claims are classed as discrimination claims.

That means if you don’t put in place processes to stop sexual harassment, train your employees to be aware that it is unacceptable, or deal with a complaint, you could be facing unlimited fines at a tribunal.

In 2017 BAE Systems were ordered to pay a former employee £360,000 for sexual harassment claim where only one comment was made. 

Need help?

If you need any help with getting a policy in place, dealing with an allegation of sexual harassment, training your employees, or just want to talk it through with one of our experts, get in touch! 03300 414 636