HR BLOG: Stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace

Sadly, we doubt that many were surprised that a male-led organisation, which holds so much power and influence, was rife with sexual harassment.

What has been shocking is the sheer scale, and the allegations of sexual violence and rape, that have come out as Harvey Weinstein’s past unravels.

Equally sickening is the cover-up that has been going on for years. This has perpetuated the cycle, creating more victims and increasing the sense of immunity that comes from never being held accountable for your actions.

Sexual harassment happens in workplaces every day, all over the world. The vast majority of incidences go unreported for fear of retribution.

A report on sexual harassment in the UK

A recent report by the TUC and the Everyday Sexism project found that 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work. This included groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes. Among women and girls aged 16-24, that rose to 63%.

Their research told women’s stories of harassment at work such as:

“I was told to sit on my boss’s lap if I wanted my Christmas bonus.”

“I heard partners assessing female candidates according to their attractiveness.”

“On a night out, stood in a crowd of male colleagues who were considerably older than me (I was 19), when one of them interrupted me by leaning through the circle and touching my boob while the rest laughed. Not one of them said anything or even seemed to think it was wrong.”

Everyone (and yes, sexual harassment does happen to men too) should be able to do their job without being made uncomfortable, intimidated or having their dignity violated. This is absolutely not the case in workplaces in the UK.

Examples of sexual harassment

Examples of sexual harassment can include verbal, non-verbal and physical unwanted attention:

  • Lewd comments or jokes
  • Physical unwanted sexual advances, such as touching or groping
  • Sexual violence – assault, rape
  • Having photos of a sexual nature on display, such as a topless calendar
  • Sending emails with a sexual overtone
  • Harassment also includes employees being treated badly because of their reaction to sexual harassment, from anyone else working for the business

What could the impact of sexual harassment be on my business?

Just think of the impact on your company’s reputation. How will you attract and retain the best staff if you have a culture where your staff feel unsafe and unhappy? Or worse you’ve been taken to, and lost, a tribunal?

Sexual harassment complaints can end up at an employment tribunal. And in a recent case, a factory worker won £10,000 compensation for sexual harassment after her boss wrote in her 40th birthday card that he wanted to grope her inappropriately. One person’s ‘bit of banter’ is another person’s humiliation and a subsequent court case.

How can I protect my staff and business from sexual harassment and its impact?

This is about culture. Make it extremely and undeniably clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. That it will be dealt with swiftly and severely. Set the tone, lead by example, take action and you will gain trust from your workforce.

Have strong reporting systems to make sure that complaints and allegations are dealt with in a fair and structured way. A way that both supports HR best practice, as well as protects you from ending up at a tribunal.

Having official equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies down in writing is a great start. But these can also be supported by staff training and regular reviews and updates on the standards of behaviour expected of staff.

A proper and thorough investigation is often the best way to tackle any issue that arises head on. And The HR Dept can be an external and independent pair of eyes to help your business.

Alison Schreiber runs The HR Dept Durham and Darlington franchise, and works with a number of businesses across PBP. For more info, visit HR Dept Durham and Darlington or call Alison on 01325 526036 or 07535 853226.