Sexual harassment in the workplace
Posted by Jane on Nov 18, 2017
To pluck a couple of sound bites from a recent CIPD update:
- “Research by the BBC has revealed that half of women and a fifth of men had been sexually harassed at work.”
- “People Management [the CIPD magazine] also highlights that more than half of workers have witnessed or been asked to do something that made them feel uncomfortable at work.”
In a totally unprecedented fashion – and driven by social media – sexual harassment is in the headlines. The allegations against Harvey Weinstein in the US have begun a global process of outing harassers. Kevin Spacey is probably the other highest-profile Hollywoodian to be named and now the press is focused on the UK with the likes of Michael Fallon and Westminster…
The responses to the stories fall into two broad camps: outrage that perpetrators have used their positions of privilege in order to prey on others and those that downplay the accusations (and by doing so, risk blaming the victims). However, for a business that wants to be seen to be taking employee safety and dignity seriously, neither response is really appropriate, but treating the issue seriously is.
Do you have a sexual harassment policy in place?
The smaller the business, the less likely it is to have written people policies in place, and arguably the less need there is to have everything spelled out. After all, employment legislation covers it, right? Well, yes it does but not every employee knows what the law says. Besides, on certain subjects – such as this one – there’s something to be said for making the company position crystal-clear and apart from the obvious moral issues, sexual harassment is bad for business; both in terms of team performance and employer reputation.
If you don’t have a policy in place, ACAS provides guidance and template documents that fit any type of business and is fully compliant with the law.
Do your employees know about that policy?
The second question is one of awareness. There’s little point in having a policy if no one knows about it. That said, if – as far as you’re aware – there have been no incidences or problems in your organisation then fanfare announcements and mandatory training programmes may be a little over the top. Circulating a copy with an explanatory cover note (“In light of recent news reports, we thought it would be a good idea…”) is probably an appropriate tack to take. Though don’t be surprised if unexpected stories begin to surface…
The key to treating sexual harassment as a serious issue is to avoid the ‘it can’t happen here’ mentality. It’s tempting (and comfortable) to believe it but just because you haven’t heard about it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened or can’t happen in the future. Having a clear no-tolerance stance gives any business the chance to a) deal with any unresolved issues, and b) make any future incidents far easier to address.
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