Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Are your Employees Saying #MeToo? Are your Managers in Denial?

Sexual Harassment in the WorkplaceWelcome to this HR Blast. Today we look at sexual harassment in the workplace, more specifically what you can do to minimise the number of harassment complaints being brought and the number of managers saying ‘not my problem’.

What’s changed?

With the combination of the #MeToo and #TimesUp creating an environment in which people feel more comfortable about speaking out, and tribunal fees being abolished, don’t be surprised if you experience a rise in grievances related to sexual harassment, and if you don’t deal with these, you may get a few sex discrimination employment tribunal claims too.

More and more people nowadays are aware of their rights, and as a HR and Training provider we are supporting with more grievances and investigations and running more Diversity & Inclusion training programmes than ever before.

With compensation for discrimination unlimited and legal fees to defend cases usually ending up in the tens of thousands of pounds wise organisations are putting their houses in better order now, rather than waiting for the next few claims to emerge. Our ideas for you about this are set out below so take a look….

The world we live in

Some interesting facts below for you to consider:

  • A recent Radio 5 Live survey of 2031 British adults found that 37% of all those asked (53% women and 20% men) said they had experienced sexual harassment, ranging from inappropriate comments to actual sexual assaults, at work or a place of study.
  • More than a quarter of people surveyed had suffered harassment in the form of inappropriate jokes or “banter” and nearly one in seven had suffered inappropriate touching.
  • Of those who had been harassed, the survey suggests 1 in 10 women had been sexually assaulted.
  • More women than men were targeted by a boss or senior manager – 30% compared with 12% – and 1 in 10 women who had experienced harassment said it led to them leaving their job or place of study.

Take Action.

To mimimise claims and reduce the number of managers who think its okay to duck and dive these issues here is our brief guide to taking action:

Individual Support

  • Let people know they can talk to their manager in confidence if there are any issues, and make sure they know that something will be done!
  • Consider setting up a confidential reporting phone line (depending on size and resources of the company).
  • Add assertiveness skills, developing self confidence, understanding and working with transactional analysis, and emotional intelligence training etc into your soft skills training. This will ensure you are regularly and actively developing those staff who might be more affected by those colleagues and managers who are less sensitive or in some cases, bullying in their approach.

Communication

  • Make this topic both acceptable and accessible to staff. Go out of your way to give the impression this is not something that has to be treated as the elephant in the room. Discuss it in meetings, bring in speakers, do some lunch and learn type activities.
  • Circulate a reminder to all staff about the company procedures and policies that apply i.e. equal opportunities, code of conduct, grievance procedure and make those documents visible and easy to find.
  • Use all company communication avenues to talk about it, perhaps posting articles on the company intranet, in the company newsletter, or put something up on the notice boards in the staff room etc.
  • Provide training or coaching for those managers whose communication skills let them and their teams down. Simply not communicating when the topic is a bit embarrassing or awkward is not an option in today’s society so aim to develop those communication skills.

Culture and Management

  • Consider employment law training for managers so that they know what the law expects, what to do when inappropriate behaviour occurs and what the penalties are for failing to manage this. They should be able to recognise and manage sexual harassment in a relevant, efficient and commercial way.
  • Consider conflict management and effective communication skills training for managers so they feel able to talk about and address challenging and often sensitive issues with those they manage
  • Roll out diversity training for all staff – identifying where the boundaries lie, what the difference is between banter and bullying etc so everyone knows what is and is not acceptable and what the law expects of them. Diversity training is also a great opportunity to reinforce the organisational culture or in some cases to re-establish the desired culture
  • Consider getting staff involved with voluntary work for related charities; this would bring benefits such as improved team work, higher sense of achievement and motivation.
  • Consider a zero-tolerance approach to inappropriate sexual behaviour or conduct if that is right for your industry/sector. But remember its important that senior leaders know that the same expectations of behaviour apply to them, as much as anyone else in the company. Two words of warning though with zero tolerance: it can lead to a culture of endless grievances and complaints rather than individuals learning how to have adult conversations with each other and zero tolerance to one person or one generation can mean something entirely different to another person or another generation.
  • Take informal action where that’s most appropriate eg behaviour is borderline. Speak with the employee concerned and make sure they are clear on the expectations of their behaviour and conduct, that any further such behaviour won’t be tolerated, and the potential consequences if it happens again. You could also consider coaching, or re-education, if they need help shifting their mindset about acceptable vs non-acceptable behaviour.
  • Take formal action when required and legitimate eg follow a formal process to investigate disclosures of sexual harassment, and where an allegation of sexual harassment is founded, follow a disciplinary process with the employee that allegation’s been made against.

The Paperwork

  • Make sure you have a disciplinary procedure that clearly outlines sanctions for bullying, harassment, victimisation, sexist behaviour, sexual assault, unprofessional behaviour etc. If you have wording on this topic that hasn’t been updated for a decade, perhaps now is the time to review it?
  • Set up/refine your code of conduct – so that everyone understands where the lines are drawn. It becomes so much easier to manage staff when you do this, and they usually value and like the clarity.

Staff Representatives

  • Don’t forget your staff representatives. They should be involved in discussions about this topic from the very start. Involve them in discussions, get them helping with the communication, ask for their ideas on training etc. Culture including the way you treat people goes to the very heart of the why staff representatives often volunteer their time – so involve them!

Of all these ideas is there one you can implement this month? Don’t just read the list and nod…identify where you are going to start as even a small start is better than no start at all!

How can we help?

  • Employment Law training sessions for your HR team and line managers – delivered by our Jaluch team
  • Diversity & Inclusion training for all staff
  • Coaching on dealing with conflict and difficult conversations
  • Train the trainer sessions and training kits for your trainers to roll out ‘Managing Discipline’ and ‘Diversity and Inclusion’
  • Relevant Policies, Guidance, Letters, Forms – available on DocsWizard through a low cost annual subscription model https://www.docswizard.co.uk/
  • Pragmatic and no-nonsense HR advice and support from our team of experienced consultants including guiding or leading complex grievance investigations and handling disciplinary matters.

With Jaluch, no onerous or long-term contract is required as we have a pay-as-you-go option which can be very quickly set up so there is no delay in us giving you the support you need. Why wait? If you would like to discuss any of the above further, then please don’t hesitate to call a HR Consultant on: 01425479888

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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