Sexual harassment in any form is not acceptable in the 21st century and definitely not in 2017 full stop.
Companies must be alert to the fact that if sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, it must be eradicated.
The ugliness that has spilt out from the allegations levelled at Harvey Weinstein within the film industry is shocking but not surprising. No doubt the papers will continue to refer to further allegations being made against him including allegations of rape.
Just a recap of what sexual harassment is.
It is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
- violates dignity;
- makes an individual feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated;
- creates a hostile or offensive environment.
For example, it could include sexual comments or jokes, physical behaviour including unwelcome sexual advances, touching in various forms; sexual assault, sending emails with a sexual content, displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature.
Be mindful of office banter that may give rise to the above.
As an employer, you need to do the following:
- If a female employee raises an issue of sexual harassment, this must be investigated thoroughly. Under no circumstances must there be a window dressing exercise.
- If possible, depending on the size of the organisation, try and make sure the parties have little or no contact until the end of the grievance.
- It is most probable that a female employee may not have witness evidence to the alleged acts of sexual harassment but as a manager, listen carefully to the grievance, ask probing questions, be sensitive and compassionate.
- Under no circumstances should managers make the employee feel like a liar or not believed or threaten her that she may lose her job if she continues with the complaints.
- The Manager needs to weigh up what evidence is before him or her consider the individuals’ credibility before reaching a decision and everything must be documented.
Sexual harassment claims can do a lot of damage to companies. Not only on a reputational level but also in terms of compensation.
As you are aware, injury to feelings awards have been increased and the top band is now up to £42,000. However, in certain circumstances, Judges can award more than £42,000 for an injury to feelings award. Further, the manager who the complaint is against could be the Second Respondent in any claim.
As a company, if harassment goes unchecked, and the recipient suffers psychological damage that may cost the company thousands.
Do not let staff in positions of power such as Directors dictate how to treat the complainant. Directors have fiduciary duties and cannot abuse their positions.
The key is to train your managers to identify these types of situations and deal with them expeditiously and thoroughly.