I don’t mean that headline as an accusation, it is a warning of what is to come. In the wake of the #MeToo campaign, the Government have been considering ways to prevent sexual harassment. As someone who has experienced it a number of times during my working career, I say it’s about time.
The Government have announced their intention to make employers:
- take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment
- require employers to take “explicit measures” to protect their staff from third party harassment.
There is also the possibility that the time limit to bring a tribunal claim may be extended from 3 months to 6 months (for claims under the Equality Act).
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. It has the purpose or effect of “violating someone’s dignity, creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual concerned”. Note, it is about how the recipient feels, not how the act was intended. “Banter” is no defence.
At age 15, I worked in a shop where the staff room was wallpapered with porn. On my first day at a new employer in the City, I walked into wolf whistles on the trading floor. No one said a word. Just 3 years ago, someone stopped me on my way to a client and asked about my underwear. Honestly, at my age I thought that was one thing I no longer needed to deal with.
Sexual harassment can mean many things. It can include things like comments made, inappropriate touching or staring, social media posts or even stalking. If you wouldn’t be happy if the act happened to your parent, your partner or your child, it’s probably not appropriate.
What can employers do to stop it?
One of the things the #MeToo campaign highlighted was just how embarrassed victims of sexual harassment feel. They tend to wonder if they are going to be believed and may find it easier to leave a job, than make a fuss. To protect your team and prevent harassment, you need to take the following steps:
- Make it clear to everyone who works for you or uses your services, that you will not tolerate sexual harassment.
- Provide appropriate training – management need to know how to recognise, deal with and prevent it.
- Raise awareness – what is harassment? What should people do if they are concerned?
- Have regular reviews with your team. Encourage them to share anything that is making them feel uncomfortable.
- Deal promptly with any allegations or concerns.
- Offer support to anyone involved in a complaint.
Why wait until the legislation comes in to take action in this important area? For more information, please contact me.