HR Blog: Can you spot workplace sexual harassment?

Harassment of any kind is wrong.

Employers have a duty of care to protect staff from harassment, and soon will have a new duty to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace. This means that, at a tribunal, you would need to show the steps that you took to actively prevent instances of harassment against your employees – and not just the actions you took after the fact.

To stop harassment from occurring, a unified effort is required to understand what harassment is and the actions needed to counter and prevent it.

Some forms of harassment are easier to identify than others. For example, if you saw someone shouting at a staff member, or being physically violent towards them, you could quickly identify this and take immediate action.

What if it was a conversation, a private message, advance, or “banter” that caused harm?

There won’t be an alarm that goes off when one of these happen, so you’ll need your management team to be well informed, approachable, and alert to all instances of workplace harassment.

Targeting sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, creating an uncomfortable, hostile or humiliating environment. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, but it occurs more frequently towards women.

Tragically, most sexual harassment goes unreported. It is only in recent years, thanks to brave survivors and movements such as #MeToo, that the true scope of the issue has been revealed. Still the problem persists.

Workplace culture has a huge part to play in facilitating sexual harassment. Without respect, education, policies, and protection, it can destroy a company and the lives of those who work there.

Everybody has a right to feel safe and dignified at work.

Test your knowledge to stamp out sexual harassment

To stop sexual harassment once and for all, awareness is key. Take our mini quiz to test your knowledge on the subject.

Which of the following actions raise red flags for sexual harassment? Mark all that apply.

  1. Calling a female colleague “Good girl” or a male colleague “Good boy”
  2. Staring at a person
  3. Viewing graphic adult content at work
  4. Telling a joke of a sexual nature
  5. Hazing a new employee
  6. Jokingly withholding information in exchange for a date
  7. Calling a female colleague a “witch”
  8. Telling a co-worker about your own sexual experiences
  9. Physically standing in a person’s way

Addressing workplace sexual harassment

You won’t see all instances of sexual harassment taking place, but you can focus on cultivating a positive workplace culture that promotes gender equality. For instance, addressing lewd jokes straight away and leading by example to set an acceptable tone.

Additionally, it’s important to take all complaints of sexual harassment seriously, allowing dedicated time and any necessary investigations to uncover the truth. Make sure you have a robust disciplinary and grievance procedure and a policy on gross misconduct.

How did you do?

Answers: If you marked them all, you are correct! They could each raise a red flag, depending on the context.

If you missed a couple or have questions on spotting and stopping sexual harassment in your business, we are here to help.