Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal in October 2017 there has been much more discussion on the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace. Recently, it has been hard to avoid reading or seeing the news on different cases being brought up in the business world. In late March the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a report “Turning the Tables: Ending Sexual Harassment at Work”. The report looked at around 1000 individuals and employers and gathered information on their workplace experiences regarding sexual harassment and preventive measures between December 2017 and February 2018. The EHRC then used this information to form recommendations for methods of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace through legislation as well as better workplace policies and systems.
As an employer the most common pitfall to fall into is ignoring the possibility of a sexual harassment claim happening to your business. Being unprepared and not understanding how to deal properly with a claim is a significant risk that can easily be avoided. The first and most important step of dealing with something of this nature is prevention. It is vital that you take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your workforce so it is free from the risk of sexual harassment. It is important to understand that sexual harassment can occur, not only from employees, but also customers. It is a business owner’s responsibility to not only try and prevent this, but to also encourage those who are personally affected or who witness an incident to feel comfortable reporting it. We know it is a difficult thing to do against another employee, but can be even more difficult if it might mean the loss of a high profile client. It is every business’s responsibility to make sure that reporting genuine concerns will result in a proper investigation.
Under the Equality Act 2010, if there is a lack of proper steps taken as an employer to prevent sexual harassment, liability not only falls on the perpetrator, but also on the employer. As an employer, to protect oneself from liability there is “the reasonable steps defence”. However, the EHRC reported “Despite these legal obligations, we found only a small minority of employers using effective approaches to prevent and address sexual harassment at work”.
Here are some ways as an employer that you can help prevent sexual harassment from occurring as well as defend against liability.
- Regularly review and adjust sexual harassment policies.
- Provide proper training programs and make sure employees truly understand the policies in place keeping proper documentation of attendees.
- Establishing a proper procedure for an individual to come forward with a claim, knowing and understanding that they will not suffer any detriment by reporting their concerns about a person’s behaviour.
The EHRC report has a full list of all their recommendations for change that must occur to help prevent such a high number of sexual harassment cases to occur at the end of their report.
While no one wants to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace, it is more prevalent than we care to admit, and it is on us to bring around change. That change must come through amended legislation, creating stronger and more in-depth policies within a business. Most importantly, businesses need to make sure those bringing claims forward are treated properly and no further harm is done to the victim.
If you are worried your company’s policies are not up to date or lack enough dedication to preventing sexual harassment and encouraging individuals to come forward, now is the time to make that change, not after a claim is made.