New guidance on sexual harassment – The seven steps employers need to take now25th February 2020 - Published by Claire Treacy
Why do we need the guidance and what is it?
Since the #MeToo campaign began two years ago in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, followed by the Westminster sexual misconduct allegations and then more recently the Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein scandal, sexual harassment has stayed firmly in the media spotlight. Yesterday, a jury found Harvey Weinstein guilty on two counts in his sexual assault trial, and he now faces up to 25 years in prison.
While these stories have raised awareness of the issue, many employers have been left none the wiser about how to deal with such complaints and how to prevent workplace harassment in the first place.
In response, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has issued new guidance to equip employers with the information that they need to help prevent harassment in their workplace. Whilst it is only guidance at the moment, it could well be taken into account in legal proceedings and therefore employers not only need to be aware of it, but should be implementing the recommendations made within it.
What does the guidance say?
The guidance provides a clear and easy to read explanation as to the different forms of harassment, ranging from sexual harassment to harassment related to age.
The guidance recommends that employers take seven steps to prevent and deal with sexual harassment in their workplace. Here, we set out what these steps are alongside our expert advice as to what this means for employers in practice.
- Develop an effective anti-harassment policy which is effectively communicated to staff.
Useful guidance is given as to what should be included in the policy. The key being that employers should have a separate policy for dealing with sexual harassment, it should not be rolled into an anti-bullying or equal opportunities policy as is usually the case. We can advise on what this policy should specifically include for your business.
- Know what to do when a complaint is made.
Complaints relating to sexual harassment should be dealt with promptly, efficiently and sensitively. This is why managers at the very least should be trained on how to investigate a complaint and why an effective standalone policy should be in place clearly setting out the procedure. In our experience, this is something employers get wrong time and time again.
- Think about reporting systems.
Employees should know who they can report a complaint of sexual harassment to and how they should make a complaint. They should not be restricted to one specific person as they might not feel comfortable making the complaint to this person and they should not be restricted to detailing the complaint on a specific form.
- Engage with their staff.
Employers should be engaging with their staff at all levels through time spent in 1-1 meetings, in order to proactively look out for signs that harassment is taking place in their workplace.
- Deliver training to staff.
Training should ensure that workers understand what harassment in the workplace is, what to do if they experience it and how to handle complaints of harassment. A record should be kept of the training given and the employees that attend. Training forms a key part of our advice package to employers and can be delivered in person or online.
- Assess and mitigate risks in the workplace.
Employers should carry out a risk assessment regarding the likelihood of harassment and victimisation taking place in their workplace, e.g. the amount of lone working that takes place in the business and the presence of alcohol related events in the workplace.
- Know what to do if dealing with sexual harassment and third parties.
Harassment committed by a third party should be dealt with just as seriously and quickly as it would be if it had been committed by a colleague. Again, this should form part of your risk assessment.
What should I be doing now as an employer?
The introduction of this guidance reflects the level of attention that is now been given to the problem of harassment, especially sexual harassment, in the workplace.
The guidance has quickly been followed by an announcement that the government is launching a survey to ask 12,000 people for their experience of sexual harassment in order that they can legislate better on this issue.
The fact that there is now clear guidance to help employers deal with the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as there being more awareness around this issue, is likely to mean that the Tribunals will come to expect much more from employers to combat harassment in their workplace. The onus is therefore very much on employers to take preventative action now.
Our experience in handling claims of sexual harassment is that they can have a devastating impact on morale, create negative publicity and expose employers to potentially significant financial liability.
Our team can provide bespoke policies, guidance and training to put employers in the best position to tackle these issues effectively. Our packages start from just £750 plus VAT. Should you be interested in increasing your business protection on this issue, please contact Sally Bird or Claire Treacy on 0161 832 3434.
Sign up for our HR Breakfast Club here where in addition to our usual case law update, where our experts will provide you with a rundown of all the recent tribunal decisions that will affect your business, we will also be covering the IR35 changes coming into play in April, new guidance issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) around sexual harassment in the workplace, and the current and future status of EU workers as the UK enters the Brexit transition period.