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Emma O'Connor
Emma O'Connor,
HEAD OF TRAINING
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Sexual harassment at work – A major issue for employers
21 November 2017

A recent BBC survey of more than 2000 people in Britain revealed that half of women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work. Of those, 63% of the female victims did not report their harassment with the equivalent figure for men being 79%.

Following campaigns such as #metoo on social media and after prominent actors and actresses revealed that they were victims of alleged sexual assault by individuals such as Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey, other victims have been empowered to discuss these issues and seek justice. These high profile cases have refocused HR on the issue of harassment and equality in the workplace but what should HR be doing? Also, how equipped is your organisation to manage historic sexual harassment allegations? 

The risks for businesses

Harassment at work – of which sexual harassment is part – can lead to a number of consequences for an organisation and individuals within it.  Inappropriate conduct towards another be it verbal, physical or virtual on social media can create a hostile and intimidatory environment and lead to claims being made for, amongst other things, harassment and discrimination. Employers can be held liable for the acts of their employees if the harassment occurred in the course of the employment and compensation for harassment and discrimination claims are uncapped so can be very costly. We also know that the definition of “in the course of employment” is very wide and can include workplace events.  Work parties can be considered to be “in the course of employment” so businesses need to be extra vigilant at work social gatherings this time of year and remind staff of their responsibilities.

But it is the hidden cost of harassment and the negative impact it can have on the victim that often goes unmeasured.  Being in such an environment or on the receiving end of such conduct can lead to the victim feeling depressed or anxious to come to work, which can lead to a rise in sickness absence, which can escalate into resignations and multiple claims (and increased compensation) against the employer and personal injury claims if issues are not dealt with. 

How open in your organisation to listen to and to deal with situations when and if they arise?

How proactive is your organisation at raising the issues – or is it reactive?

As well as employment claims, these kinds of cases can result in serious harm to a business’ reputation especially due to instant news via social media. Trending stories in the press and online often lead to customers boycotting a product.  In a competitive market, publicity can be the deciding factor to winning or losing customers.

Want to discuss how to avoid these problems?

This is a serious issue and HR and organisations need to focus on how it deals with issues of harassment, including managing historic claims.  Complacency around equality and diversity issues at work or a feeling that your organisation “does enough” will be no defence to allegations of harassment.  We know this is a busy time for HR and the organisation as we reach year end and also focus on other issues such as GDPR; but we must put equality and training back onto the people management agenda. Let Boyes Tuner help you do that!

Join us for a training course “SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORK – WHAT EMPLOYERS NEED TO KNOW” on THURSDAY 25 JANUARY 2018, READING (9.30-12.30), where our lawyers will be focusing on how organisations can understand the risks of harassment claims and put themselves in the best position possible to manage complaints.  To book your place or find out more please email [email protected] 

We are training organisations and managers on how to spot these issues and ways to avoid these problems arising. Courses can be run face to face at a location of your choosing. We also offer online learning such as webinars. To find out more about training, please contact, Emma O’Connor, Head of Training for the Employment Group [email protected]

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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