How to spot and stop sexual harassment in your business

Just recently, a BBC documentary and trending advert from Gillette shed more light on the continuing issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. This has been a globally trending topic in recent years thanks to progressive movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp. However, recent storylines in the media suggest that more awareness is needed for the problem to be understood in everyday work situations.

Why more needs to be done

We couldn’t agree more, and can’t stress enough that swift and serious action is imperative when it comes to tackling sexual harassment.

The long-standing and endemic problem in the UK was specifically outlined in a 61-page report from the UK House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee (WESC) last summer. Citing a BBC study that showed 40% of women have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace, the WESC challenged the UK government to put sexual harassment at the top of their agenda.

The UK government response acknowledged that more needs to be done. It introduced the need for a statutory Code of Practice to help employers understand their role in eradicating sexual harassment in the workplace. Read on to find out more and to see what you can do to be a part of the solution.

Your obligations

As an employer you are liable for acts of harassment carried out by your employees in the course of their employment (under section 109 of the Equality Act 2010). If such harassment is not adequately addressed, it could result in an employment tribunal, considerable fines and irrevocable damage to your business.

Take the case of Podlecka vs MYM Global Ltd for example. At an employment tribunal the employer was ordered to pay Ms Podlecka a total of £15,000. She had experienced name-calling and was dismissed following a claim of alleged sexual harassment at work. With the right culture and policies put in place, this could all have been avoided.

Your warning signs

In order to effectively stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to understand what it is. Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. This can include, but is not limited to, the following:

• Sexual comments or jokes
• Displaying sexually graphic pictures, posters, photos
• Propositions and sexual advances
• Sexual posts or contact on social media
• Intrusive questions about a person’s private sex life or discussing your own sex life
• Spreading sexual rumours about a person

Sexual harassment can be between persons of the same or different sex. A one-off occurrence is enough to be concerned about. What may be considered as just a joke or ‘banter’ to one person could very well be harmful to another and come with high risk.

Your actions

Start with your company culture. Make it undeniably clear to your employees that sexual harassment is prohibited from your workplace and that any occurrences will face severe consequences. This can be further reiterated through an anti-harassment policy and staff training.

In addition to this, you’ll want to practice what you preach and follow fair procedures when dealing with complaints of harassment. Aim to address any issues in a timely manner and protect the confidentiality of your employees.

Your support

Sexual harassment is a sensitive and complex issue. If it is managed poorly it can do serious damage to your business. For expert advice and peace of mind on the subject, contact your local HR Dept without delay.


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