Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Three Things Employers Need to know

A new report published by the Fawcett Society, Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, shows that sexual harassment is still an issue in some organisations.

Whilst sexual harassment is a term most employers are familiar with, how is it defined in law and what can employers do to tackle this issue? Here’s three things employers need to know.

  1. What does the Fawcett Society report say?

The report made a number of findings including:

  • At least 40% of women surveyed experienced workplace harassment
  • 45% of women surveyed reported experiencing harassment online through sexual messages, cyber harassment and sexual calls
  • Almost a quarter of women who had been sexually harassed said the harassment had increased or escalated since the start of the pandemic while they were working from home
  • A poll of LGBT workers found that 68% had experienced some form of harassment in the workplace

Culture, policy, training, reporting mechanisms and the way employers respond to reports were said to be critical elements to help create a workplace intolerant of sexual harassment.

  1. What is sexual harassment?

When employers think of conduct of a sexual nature and sexual harassment they usually think of incidents such as unwelcome advances, touching, sexual gestures, sending or displaying sexual material. Sexual harassment can and does take such forms, but it is also much wider than this.

In simple terms, sexual harassment is unwanted conduct related to sex or that is of a sexual nature and which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Both women and men can be victims of sexual harassment and even a one-off incident can be enough for a successful claim to be brought.

  1. What steps can employers take?

It’s important that steps are taken to prevent sexual harassment from occurring because of the impact it can have on those who are harassed and because employers can be found vicariously liable if one employee sexually harasses another.

Steps employers should take include:

  • Putting in place appropriate policies and procedures, such as anti-harassment and equal opportunities policies;
  • Clearly communicating the organisation’s policies to employees;
  • Ensuring employees know how to report sexual harassment and that the workplace culture is such that they feel able to do so;
  • Providing effective training to employees and managers and ensuring that this is refreshed periodically.

Educating managers and employees in this way can help to reduce the risk of sexual harassment occurring and in the unfortunate event it does occur, help the employer if a claim is brought against the organisation. Employers need to be able to show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from occurring.

If a complaint about harassment of any kind is made in your organisation it’s important that the matter is addressed promptly and appropriately. You should contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd for advice on the circumstances of your situation and the steps to follow.

If you have any employment law matter you would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact us as we are here to help.


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