Sexual harassment: advice for employers

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sexual harassment

The issue of sexual harassment reared its ugly head again recently when a serious complaint landed on the desk of one of my clients. A new starter, on their first day at the company, was asked inappropriate questions by an older employee.

The changes in society regarding gay and trans rights mean that more and more organisations are having to deal with the sensitive issue of sexual harassment at work. If action is not taken, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) can issue legally-binding section 23 agreements forcing businesses to adopt measures to protect their staff.

How big is the problem?

According to a recent survey, one in 10 workers in London have seen or experienced some kind of sexual harassment in the workplace. However, most employees did not report the incident to their boss.

The survey of 2,000 people revealed that not reporting harassment at work was more common in the capital (54%) than the rest of the UK (a little under half). Four in 10 employees in London also feared some form of retribution for reporting incidents.

Interestingly, nearly a third (three in 10) thought that reporting the issue to the media would more likely solve the problem than approaching their line managers. Only 62% of workers felt that misconduct complaints would be handled fairly by their employer.

As an experienced HR consultant, I always advise my clients to review their current culture and policies so that staff complaints are handled promptly and correctly. If you are a small business owner, I have put together this guide to help you handle complaint legally and with respect.

1. Understand sexual harassment

Sexual harassment covers unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that violates an individual’s dignity or creates a hostile environment. This can range from inappropriate jokes to physical advances and everything in between. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are legally responsible for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

2. Proactive steps to protect staff

There are a number of steps employers can take to address sexual harassment. Here are my five key steps for small businesses:

  • Zero-tolerance approach: review and communicate your anti-harassment policies to ensure that everyone understands that you take the issue seriously.
  • Staff survey: conduct anonymous research to measure the prevalence of sexual harassment and identify areas of risk within your organisation.
  • Training: provide comprehensive training to employees on recognising and reporting sexual harassment, fostering a culture of accountability and respect.
  • Leadership: equip managers with the skills and tools to identify and address harassment, conduct thorough investigations, and provide support to affected individuals.
  • Monitor progress: regularly assess and measure progress towards creating a safe and inclusive work environment, adjusting strategies as needed.

3. Senior leadership support

Culture comes from the top, so the senior leadership in your business needs to champion the zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment. This will send a signal to staff that the company is fully committed to setting up internal practices to prevent bad behaviour.

4. Cost of sexual harassment cases

Like any major HR issue, failing to address sexual harassment can have dire consequences for a business. The negative impact can include hefty legal costs, productivity interruptions, increased absenteeism, talent loss and damage to reputation.

Need advice on handling sexual harassment?

Tackling sexual harassment requires a concerted effort from every level of a business. By implementing proactive measures, fostering a culture of respect, and demonstrating leadership commitment, small businesses can create safer and more productive workplaces for all employees.

At JT HRConsultancy, we’re dedicated to supporting small businesses in navigating complex HR challenges. We are an established HR services company based in Bedfordshire with clients across the UK. If you need help of advice on an employment issue, call me on 07715 026128 or visit my contact page.


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