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How to spot and stop sexual harassment in your business

Just last week a thought provoking advert from Gillette shed more light on the continuing issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. This has been a globally trending topic in recent years thanks to progressive movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp. However, recent storylines in the media suggest that more awareness is needed for the problem to be understood in everyday work situations.

Why more needs to be done

We couldn’t agree more, and can’t stress enough that swift and serious action is imperative when it comes to tackling sexual harassment.

The long-standing and endemic problem in Ireland is evident from a surge in claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. With some news reports suggest a staggering 200% increase in recent years.

In a bid to tackle the issue and establish working environments free from sexual harassment, The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform produced the Code of Practice. To further understand the scope of the problem a national survey on sexual abuse and violence along with sexual harassment in the workplace is on its way. Read on for more on the topic and to see what you can do to be a part of the solution.

Your obligations

As an employer you are liable for acts of harassment carried out by your employees in the course of their employment, under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015. Which, if not adequately addressed, could result in an employment tribunal, considerable fines and irrevocable damage to your business. With the right culture and policies put in place this could all be avoided.

Take this case for example. The Workplace Relations Commission ordered that the employer pay the complainant a total of €45,000 after they ruled she had been subject to ongoing sexual harassment from her boss over a period of five months.  With the right culture and policies put in place this could all have been avoided.

Your warning signs

In order to effectively stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to understand what it is. Sexual harassment is defined as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. This can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Verbal harassment such as jokes, comments, ridicule or songs
  • Written harassment including faxes, text messages, emails or notices
  • Physical harassment for example, jostling, shoving, grabbing, or any form of contact
  • Intimidatory harassment like gestures, posturing or threatening poses
  • Visual displays such as posters, emblems or badges

Sexual harassment can be between persons of the same or different sex. A one-off occurrence is enough to be concerned about. What may be considered as just a joke to one person could very well be harmful to another and come with high risk.

It’s a complex issue. A lot of people meet their life partner, husband or wife at work, as we spend a big chunk of our time there.  However, engaging in romantic gestures or approaches when in work should be strenuously discouraged, as it is not cupid who will pay, it is the employer whose heart will break when they face a discrimination claim.

Your actions

Start with your company culture. Make it undeniably clear to your employees that sexual harassment is prohibited from your workplace and that any occurrences will face severe consequences. This can be further reiterated through an anti-harassment policy and staff training.

In addition to this, you’ll want to practice what you preach and follow fair procedures when dealing with complaints of harassment. Aim to address any issues in a timely manner and protect the confidentiality of your employees. Do not be tempted to say “ah, they didn’t mean anything by it” and fob it off!

Your support

Sexual harassment is a sensitive and complex issue. If it is managed poorly it can do serious damage to your business. For expert advice and peace of mind on the subject, contact your local HR Dept without delay.