HR 8 November 2017

How to avoid sexual harassment cases in the workplace

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It is a legal requirement to have a sexual harassment and bullying policy

With claims of sexual misconduct currently dominating the news agenda, HR expert and founder of Morgan Redwood, Janice Haddon, tells employers how to avoid sexual harassment cases in the workplace.

Reports of sexual harassment are currently dominating the media, with the accusations affecting every employment sector, from Hollywood to parliament.

Speaking at the recent Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London, Theresa May pledged to increase HR support and promote a “culture of respect” within Westminster, following a wave of sexual harassment allegations in UK politics.

She stated: “Women and men should be able to work free from the threat of fear or harassment”.

Following the many scandals making recent headlines, it has been highlighted that as a society, we have become more focused on creating and promoting an environment in which victims are able to speak out about their experiences.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is a legal requirement for businesses and organisations in the UK to have a policy to avoid sexual harassment cases and bullying.

Employers themselves are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace, and are liable for any harassment suffered by an employee.

So, it is important that employers create and implement cohesive workplace policies, stating what is considered acceptable behaviour and what is not, thereby creating a clear code of conduct that employees must adhere to.

These policies, and the organisation’s code of conduct, should be introduced to employees at the induction stage and reiterated throughout the term of employment to avoid sexual harassment cases.

As with any workplace culture, it is important the principles start from within. Establishing a strong corporate vision which encompasses internal values and staff engagement, as well as external ones, will help to create a culture to which everyone is attuned.

A strong workplace culture does many positive things, but it particularly helps to create an environment of respect and open communication.

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If staff members, both male and female, respect each other, then cases of harassment will naturally occur less.

It will also help to create a sense of comradery between employees, meaning that should an employee exhibit unacceptable behaviour, more people are likely to speak out against it.

Communication should be a key component of an effective culture to avoid sexual harassment cases, and should therefore be one of your core values.

Employees should feel able to freely open up and discuss any issues they may have within the workplace, no matter how serious in nature.

There should be zero tolerance of bad behaviour within your organisation. This should create a whistle-blowing policy, where all employees feel able to report such behavior, whether they have experienced it or witnessed it.

Not only should employees feel free and comfortable to talk about such instances, it should also be clear to them who they should be talking to. Create open and clear communication channels for complaints, and make sure these are well promoted in-house.

It is also important to develop procedures to deal with unacceptable behaviour. Managers and leaders should be well equipped to not only be able to identify such behavior, but also handle any possible complaints.

Line managers are usually the first port of call for many employees, so they should feel capable of dealing with complaints and confident in the next steps.

If managers need to seek advice, they should know who this is with. Many companies have in-house HR departments, but if yours does not, make sure they know where to turn for advice.

As previously mentioned, it’s important that managers, like staff, know the correct procedures to avoid sexual harassment cases and know how to deal with bad behaviour and a resulting complaint.

It can be tempting to rush through procedures and skip steps in an attempt to get a quick and desired result, but it is important to do things correctly.

It is the employer who is responsible for preventing harassment in the workplace, and it is therefore the employer who should uphold the appropriate values and procedures.

As with the procedures for reporting incidents, discipline procedures should also be well documented and upheld. Brushing off incidents will be considered the same as condoning them, and will do little to prevent bad behavior from happening.

Ensure incidents are dealt with appropriately – you don’t want to create a culture of fear, but employees should know that there are consequences for bad behaviour.

While a lot of the reports currently in the media have come as a shock, with many close to those involved pleading ignorance, create a culture which focuses on eliminating inappropriate behaviour from the outset.

From the start of their employment, staff should be aware what constitutes acceptable behaviour and should be unified in working together to eliminate it.

Janice Haddon is founder at HR consultancy Morgan Redwood

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