Following the latest scandal which has spread from Hollywood to Westminster, sexual harassment is again plastered over the front pages of the papers and trending on social media, it seems timely to create a Sexual Harassment Policy.
Despite having Equal Opportunities within the workplace since the ‘70s, it has been proved time and time again that gender hypocrisy still exists within the workplace.
Sexual harassment can impact greatly on the victim’s emotional and mental health, leading to a loss of self esteem. For the majority of people, work is where you spend most of your time and, to victims, it can feel like there is no escape from the perpetrator.
There have been calls for a dedicated legal process to deal with Sexual Harassment within the workplace in addition to the current Equality Act 2010 to support vulnerable employees (both men and women).
Having a good policy can help employees raise these concerns, rather than going on long term sick as a first response. This article aims to help small businesses to consider what could be included in a Sexual Harassment Policy (SHP).
Encouraging staff to be open and bring claims forward
Ensure your SHP is clear that any allegations will be looked into fairly and that the employee raising the claim will not be discriminated against as a result.
Who can the allegation be raised to?
In the usual grievance process, an employee often has to raise a grievance with their line manager. However, given the sensitivity of such allegations, the SHP can be more lenient and encourage employees to seek guidance from a trusted manager or senior colleague. Making the process easily accessible will help remove barriers, enabling victims of harassment to come forward.
Can the employee remain anonymous?
Protecting the identity of the employee raising the allegation can encourage them to speak out about Sexual Harassment. This would need to be carefully worded as there may be times when this is impossible given the circumstances. However, withholding the accuser’s identify in the initial investigation stages could help victims make that all important first step.
Often sexual harassment is seen to be a joke, with the victim being categorised as ‘too sensitive’. It is important to remember that a business can be liable for the actions of its employees. Therefore it is important to train managers to prevent sexual harassment, and if not possible, train mangers to handle any accusations with care and compassion.
If a complaint should go as far as a tribunal, how the company responded to complaints will be examined and scrutinised.
Act - even if no complaint has been made
In the absence of the victim coming forward, or even if gossip is going around the office, investigate! The victim may not feel able to come forward for many reasons (being the source of the office gossip won’t help), but that does not mean they are not entitled to a fair outcome.
This will set a precedent for any would be perpetrators and shows that your company has a zero tolerance on sexual harassment.
Follow your Sexual Harassment Policy!
Having a policy is all well and good, but if you do not follow it, it is meaningless.
Sexual harassment is a serious issue that employers may inadvertently be liable for. Having a good policy, and more importantly following this policy, should help protect small businesses from avoidable disruption and legal action. If you would like help to create a Sexual Harassment Policy, or need help supporting an employee who has been a victim of sexual harassment, contact Opsium for further advice.