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Stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace

Sadly, we doubt that many were surprised that a male-led organisation that holds so much power and influence was rife with sexual harassment.

What has been shocking is the sheer scale and the allegations of sexual violence and rape that have come out as Harvey Weinstein’s past unravels.

What is equally sickening is the cover-up that has been going on for years just perpetuating the cycle, creating more victims and increasing the sense of immunity that comes from never being held accountable for your actions.

Sexual harassment happens in workplaces every day, all over the world with the vast majority of incidences going unreported for fear of retribution.

Women have recently told stories of harassment at work such as;

  • “I was told to sit on my boss’s lap if I wanted my Christmas bonus”
  • “I heard partners assessing female candidates according to their attractiveness”
  • “On a night out, stood in a crowd of male colleagues who were considerably older than me (I was 19) when one of them interrupted me by leaning through the circle and touching my boob while the rest laughed. Not one of them said anything or even seemed to think it was wrong.”

Everyone (and yes sexual harassment does happen to men too) should be able to do their job without being made uncomfortable, intimidated or having their dignity violated and this is absolutely not the case in workplaces.

Examples of sexual harassment can include verbal, non-verbal and physical unwanted attention:

  • Lewd comments or jokes
  • Physical unwanted sexual advances, such as touching or groping
  • Sexual violence – assault, rape
  • Having photos of a sexual nature on display, such as a topless calendar
  • Sending emails with a sexual overtone

Harassment also includes employees treated badly because of their reaction to sexual harassment, from anyone else working for the business.

What could the impact be on my business?

Just think of the impact on your company’s reputation. How will you attract and retain the best staff if you have a culture where your staff feel unsafe and.

One person’s ‘bit of banter’ is another person’s humiliation and subsequent court case.

How can I protect my business?

This is about culture. Make it extremely and undeniably clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly and severely. Set the tone, lead by example, take action and you will gain trust from your workforce.

Having strong reporting systems to make sure that complaints and allegations are dealt with in a fair and structured way that both supports HR best practice, as well as protects you from ending up at a tribunal.

Having written equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies is a great start, but these can also be supported by staff training and regular reviews and updates on the standards of behaviour expected of staff.

A proper and thorough investigation is often the best way to tackle any issue that arises head on, and the HR Dept can be an external and independent pair of eyes to help your business.