Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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The recent focus on Harvey Weinstein has thrown the largest spotlight on sexual harassment for years.

Employers are always encouraged to take steps to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace but the latest stories have highlighted one particular aspect of harassment that appears to need specific attention: the apparent secrecy that shrouded the actions of an alleged harasser. Employers should bear in mind these top three tips to ensure this secrecy does not pervade their workplace.

Management attitude

It is important for managers – those with authority and responsibility – to set an example to the rest of the organisation. Those who are the spearheads of the business should ensure they portray the ethos that they wish to be followed by the entire workforce.

It is important that management conveys a consistent message to the rest of the workforce regarding the zero tolerance stance towards all forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. They should all attend regular training on harassment awareness; part of this should instil in them that they should take a proactive view on implementing the zero tolerance policy.

This means being able to spot instances of harassment; training should include examples to look out for including so-called banter. Managers should be told that – as statistics show – sexual harassment in the workplace does occur and so they should be prepared to deal with it; sweeping it under the carpet is not an option. A recent report shows that 50% of women and 20% of men have suffered sexual harassment at work or their place of study.

Tackle all allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace

Harvey Weinstein’s senior position in Hollywood and respectable professional achievements may have influenced those who were aware of allegations against him to keep a lid on their knowledge. However, no member of staff should be above the law. Clearly, allegations against senior members of staff should be handled sensitively but they must be addressed.

Employees should be encouraged to report all allegations and reminded that they will suffer no recrimination for doing so.

Managers dealing with allegations should put aside their personal opinion of the alleged harasser. Harassment occurs if an individual feels the behaviour creates a hostile or intimidating environment and is not subject to the intention of the individual or opinions of whether someone is too “nice” to be a harasser.

Open door policy

An anti-harassment policy should clearly set out the steps that an employee should take if they feel they are being subject to harassment. This should include the name of a person that they can make a complaint to. Employees may be encouraged to raise a complaint if the designated person is not directly linked to them or their work so it may be appropriate to designate more than one person to avoid the situation where a policy requires an individual to make a complaint to their line manager, but the line manager is the alleged harasser.

Procedures should allow for an initial informal complaint to be made – employees may be put off from complaining if they must stick to strict formal procedures from the start. Employees should be encouraged to raise an issue at any time.

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