Knowing what advice both “sides” of the corporate landscape are given will help bosses better understand what the company can be doing to make the sexual harassment process more fair and efficient.
Hart Brown‘s employment law specialist, Jane Crosby, pointed out the differing perceptions of sexual harassment. Some believe only the physical elements constitute as harassment. However, others feel that words are equally as weighty.
“Remember that it is not necessary for harassment to be physical and employees can be harassed by the same or opposite sex,” Crosby said. “It covers a variety of behaviour from verbal comments such as inappropriate jokes, banter, sexual advances, threats to a person’s continued employment or plain physical sexual assault.”
It can be a one-off incident or a pattern of continual behaviour, Crosby said. Employers need to be mindful what effect the above can have on employees. After all, they expect you to take appropriate action when they come forward with such complaints.
According to Andrew Weir, employer services manager at Moorepay, employees are regularly told to check company policy. “Based on this information, a discussion takes place between the employee and line manager around what has taken place,” he said.
“Popular advice suggests that after this consultation, the person in question should consider whether confronting the individual to explain what they are doing, would be the right option. If this isn’t appropriate, a formal written grievance must be raised, and in some circumstances, the matter should be reported to the police.”
Crucially, Weir explained, there is an area where expectation and leadership thoughts collide. Employees must raise the issue with their employer as soon as possible – and if staff aren’t doing so then there’s already a gap in the process. Because you, as the employer, really need to know what has happened and when, so as to effectively help staff find a resolution.
“It’s often said that if none can be found, the employee should consider resignation and taking legal action against the alleged aggressor and/or employer if having followed many/all of the above steps, and the behaviour continues,” Weir explained.
Amanda Boyd, professional support employment lawyer at LHS Solicitors, says all businesses should approach sexual harassment claims with a degree of sensitivity and diplomacy.
Weir cautioned that if a policy is not in place or isn’t sufficient, it needs to be immediately revised, expressly stating that harassment will not be tolerated and that all employees have a right to complain if it occurs “And after a policy is in place, a company should ensure all employees have read and understood it,” he added.
There will be times where staff will need to do more than they perhaps think they should. Take training, for example. As Weir suggested: “Equality and diversity training, including testing with a reasonable and fully reportable pass score, should also be put in place.”
Another piece of advice employees don’t often hear is that bosses must actively promote the values within said equality and diversity training. “Individual circumstances of sexual harassment can be extremely difficult to manage; therefore, employers must consider all avenues and stay open throughout the process,” Weir explained.
“This includes considering suspension of employee(s) to allow for a thorough impartial investigation into the allegations. Other actions could include workplace mediation, agreed re-deployment, impose re-reading of company polices or re-training on equality and diversity matters, and disciplinary sanctions up to and including gross misconduct dismissal potential.”
At the end of the day, the only way expectations and employer actions will meet is if a safe working environment has been created. For employers, Crosby detailed, that includes the avoidance of unnecessary stress on the person making the complaint. For example, making sure there is somewhere private to discuss the complaint and adopting sympathetic listening strategies.
Sexual harassment is still prevalent in the modern workplace. But while much emphasis is placed on bolstering the right policies, is there a way bosses can spot whether the workplace itself needs an urgent change?
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