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With the Weinstein revelations in October 2017, the Oxfam scandal in February 2018, and a slew of similar stories since, the topic of sexual harassment has never been more prominent than it is now.

This has served as a welcome force for debate and a re-appraisal of what is appropriate in the workplace. At the end of July 2018 the Parliamentary Committee published a report on sexual harassment that called for action by the government, regulators and employers to put the issue of sexual harassment at the top of their agenda.

A recent BBC survey has also reported that 40% of women and 18% of men had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work. *

Defining sexual harassment in the workplace

First, what do we mean by sexual harassment? The official definition is

“unwanted conduct of a sexual nature – that has the purpose or effect of violating dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

In practice, examples can include use of sexual language and innuendo, display or sharing of pornographic images, unwanted touching or even sexual assault.

The most common cases we see in HR are where a working environment and culture is so relaxed that people openly use innuendo and crude jokes that is perceived by most as ‘banter’. However, allowing this culture to take root places the business and its employees at risk, because you never know when you will hire someone who will take offence more easily than others, or find that someone who has seemingly accepted the behaviour for a period of time, then uses that ‘banter’ as an example of sexual harassment.

Other common examples centre around unwanted advances from one member of staff to another, often taking place at work parties or resulting from affairs that turn sour.

Tackling sexual harassment

  • Be alive to the issues: As a manager or business owner it’s your job to demonstrate the right behaviours, and if your team members aren’t behaving appropriately, you need to tell them. That way, you will be actively showing your team what kind of workplace you expect.
  • Provide clear information: Ensure you have a harassment and bullying policy such as that provided by citrusHR, that your team is aware of it and that people know how to report unacceptable behaviour.
  • Deal with any claims of sexual harassment sensitively and diligently. Remember that it can be really difficult for individuals to raise this kind of complaint, so think about the consequences on all sides and ensure you don’t jump to conclusions before undertaking your investigations. It is important to listen to noise and grumbles, ensuring you don’t ignore warning signs or brush things under the carpet.
  • Remember that work parties and social events are an extension of the workplace. Therefore during these events be mindful of your team’s behaviour, consider limiting the amount of alcohol provided by the company and don’t be afraid to send people home if they are getting a bit carried away!
  • Ensure you demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach and consider offering additional support to anyone who reports that they have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Allow staff to have access to the senior team, ensure they know you are approachable and will deal with issue. You need to foster an environment where it is okay to challenge and say no if someone is acting inappropriately.
  • If you think you might have a problem, consider running some short training sessions around Dignity and Respect at work.
  • Use your grievance and disciplinary procedures where necessary, ensuring you undertake robust investigations- and if you uncover anything serious for example someone taking advantage of vulnerable people you should report this to the police.

If you’re unsure about how to implement practices and guidelines that provide clarity to your team about appropriate behaviour in the workplace, or you’re unsure how to manage an issue of alleged sexual harassment, we’re here to help. Give us a call on 0333 444 0165 or send us a message to find out more.



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