How to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: 8 Key Ways
To follow on from our detailed newsletter article on the nature of how sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, HR:4UK are now producing a series of top tips to help employers who are worried about instances of sexual harassment in their place of work
What can Employers do to Prevent Sexual Harassment at Work?
ACAS advisor Gary Wedderburn made it very clear in his discussion with Glamour Magazine1:
“Employers should take steps such as explain what sexual harassment is, what types of behaviours are unacceptable, encourage and support staff to report any incidents and be clear on how a reported incident will be investigated. All staff should be trained to recognise sexual harassment”.
So, what practical steps can employers take to tackle sexual harassment and ensure that their workplace is one free from sexual harassment?
1. Put sexual assault and harassment policies and procedures in place
In the event of a complaint, it is incumbent upon employers to adhere to a comprehensive and equitable process as laid out in the Acas Code of Practice. This could involve the implementation of a grievance procedure or a dedicated policy to address sexual harassment claims, or a structure which aids those who feel they have been sexually harassed.
If the latter approach is opted for, it’s essential that it aligns with the guidelines of trade unions or other representative bodies of the employer and employees, particularly in scenarios where a formal union is absent. HR:4UK has exactly such policies which you can buy directly from us, or we can help you implement them. Simply email [email protected] or call 01455 444 222 to get a robust policy today.
2. Implement an effective reporting system for workplace sexual harassment
According to Garry Wedderburn, providing staff with multiple channels of communication is a significant benefit. These channels can include reporting to a line manager, senior manager, a specialist designated to handle specific issues (a ‘workplace champion’), a trade union representative, or an anonymous reporting system.
3. Use formal and informal routes of discipline
When it comes to discipline, there are less formal measures one might consider before invoking official proceedings. One such measure might involve getting an apology or assurances that the incidents of work sexual harassment or misconduct will not recur.
If these unofficial routes yield no results, it becomes necessary to initiate a formal process. This process should permit both the complainant and the accused to be accompanied by a union representative or co-worker, and consultation should be easily accessible for each party. Note that any grievance comes with a right to appeal.
4. Make sure other policies align with your sexual harassment policy
Ensure that all associated policies are in alignment with your sexual harassment policy. This includes policies surrounding disciplinary actions, social media usage, dress codes, and data protection (in compliance with GDPR).
5. Train staff on sexual harassment and the Equality Act (EQA) (2010)
It is often optimal to start by ensuring all employees receive comprehensive training about sexual harassment in the workplace prior to any incidents. It is critical to establish a level playing field where everyone understands the repercussions from the outset, which in turn aids in the prevention of potential difficulties. In particular, this should make reference to the EQA, which outlines explicitly what does and does not constitute harassment of a sexual nature.
Likewise, having a member of the team, such as a manager or someone trained in Human Resources, who is proficient in the necessary procedures can play a significant role in preventing sexual harassment and nipping problems in the bud before they escalate.
6. Assess the risk of sexual harassment
Various factors can worsen or increase the risk of harassment for your workers, beyond just the nature of their tasks. These factors may include working alone, the presence of alcohol, or significant power imbalances among staff. Taking steps to mitigate these factors, even to some extent, can help prevent future difficulties. It is also crucial to actively manage the risk of sexual harassment at all times, as cases can often go unreported for weeks, months, or even years.
7. Create a workplace culture of zero tolerance around sexual harassment in the workplace
It is imperative from the outset to underline that any form of harassment in the workplace is not just unlawful, but it also contradicts the core values of your organisation and may result in severe professional repercussions. It must be clear that unwanted conduct can lead to an offensive environment which is harmful to all.
8. Improve equality, diversity and inclusion
Businesses that promote equality, diversity and inclusion are potentially less likely to encounter instances of these sexual harassment cases, according to a study by Shiu-Yik Au, Andréanne Tremblay and Leyuan You2.
To better implement a culture that embraces diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI), contact HR:4UK today on [email protected] or call 01455 444 222 to discuss how we can help your business.
So there you have it, 8 key ways in which your business can address, report and prevent sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. For any further questions or queries, why not get in touch with our dedicated team of Human Resources experts today.
1. Mohammed, S. & Ross, C. (15th May 2023). Sexual Harassment is Still Rife in the Workplace According to Alarming New Statistics – and We Need to Talk About It. https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/new-statistics-about-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace
2. Au, S-Y.; Tremblay, A.; You, L. (30th November 2022). Does Board Gender Diversity Reduce Workplace Sexual Harassment? https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/corg.12496
James is our resident wordsmith and has many years of experience in writing about a huge variety of topics from HR to Occupational Health and beyond. He has been published in numerous magazines and news outlets, and especially enjoys researching and analysing the current trends in the modern business world.