Make no mistake about it; harassment claims are a serious HR issue with severe consequences for both employer and employee.
As employers, you should be aware that you are under an obligation to protect your employees from harassment in the workplace. Harassment and harassment claims occur where a person engages in unwanted conduct related to sex which has the purpose or effect of violating another person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.
You should be aware that just a single incident can constitute harassment and there is no need for the victim to have previously made it clear that such behaviour was unwanted. In addition, you can be held responsible for harassment regardless of whether you, as the employer, are aware of the conduct or not.
If such an issue arose at your business, what would you do?
As the employer, you will have a defence against any harassment claims if you can show that you (the business) had taken all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment. Therefore, it is important that all employers are proactive in preventing harassment as there is little damage limitation that can be done after the harassment has taken place.
Here are some tips to help you avoid harassment issues:
- Ensure you have a clear policy on equal opportunities, sex discrimination and harassment
- Ensure your staff are required to be familiar with this policy. It is also important for the policy to be enforced consistently.
- Make sure staff are aware that breaches of the policy will be taken very seriously and dealt with as a disciplinary issue.
- Give staff details of how they can make a complaint about harassment including who to report it to and what information to include.
- Investigate any allegations of harassment thoroughly whilst giving consideration to the sensitivity of the issues.
- Consider giving equal opportunities awareness training to staff.
- Think about whether there any steps that need to be put in place to protect your employees against harassment from third parties such as customers and suppliers.
The fallout from Gray and Key’s comments continues to rumble on and serves as a reminder to employers that there is still some way to go to permanently remove inequality and harassment from the workplace. However, given the high penalties imposed on employers who fall foul of sex discrimination legislation and the damaging effects that it can have on both staff morale and reputation of your business, it is advisable you take as many preventative steps as possible in this highly sensitive area.
If you have any questions, please contact a member of our Employment & HR team on 01332 340 211.