In 2018 the Equality and Human Rights Commissions (EHRC) found that 50% of British women and 20% of men have been sexually harassed at work yet only 37% of these women and 21% of men are reporting it.
The Equality Act 2010 defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
The EHRC stated in their latest guide; ‘Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work: A Guide for Employers’ January 2020 that:
‘Everyone has a right to feel safe and supported at work. If you don’t deal with sexual harassment in your workplace, it can have a damaging effect on your workers’ mental and physical health. This can affect them across their personal and working life and has a negative impact on workplace culture and productivity.’
As employers you can be liable for any acts of sexual harassment in your workplace along with the perpetrator. You therefore need to not only ensure you create a safe and inclusive environment for your employees, but also protect yourself from any litigation.
So, what does this mean in practice?
The EHRC outlined 7 steps that you can take to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace:
- Develop an effective anti-harassment policy – define what sexual harassment is, the reporting procedures, the consequences if the policy is broken and third-party harassment.
- Engage your staff – ensure you are regularly communicating with your employees so that you can identify where issues may arise such as in 1 to 1’s or leavers interviews.
- Assess and take steps to reduce risks – are there any factors that might increase the risks of sexual harassment? For example, lone working, power in-balances and alcohol.
- Reporting – make reporting simple. Ensure you have informal and formal options.
- Training – all employees should be trained on what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like, what to do if they experience it, and how to handle any complaints of harassment.
- What to do when a complaint is made – act immediately and follow your policy.
- Dealing with third parties – harassment by a third party should be treated as seriously as that by a colleague.
Are you doing enough to prevent and deal with sexual harassment in your workplace? Maybe now is the time to review your existing policies and procedures inline with the guidance from the EHRC.