Publish date

28 November 2017

How to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace

Half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexual harassed in the workplace, a BBC report revealed.

The #metoo campaign that’s swarming social media has revealed that many individuals are not aware of what actually constitutes sexual harassment and that there are far more victims then we currently think.

As the legal definition of sexual harassment covers a wide range of behaviour and is subjective in its nature, actions that have previously been dismissed as “banter” or “harmless flirting” could now land employers in deep trouble if it’s not dealt with properly we thought it might be helpful to give you some guidance on how best to deal with a complaint of sexual harassment if you were to receive one.

What is sexual harassment?

Harassment in the workplace falls under the umbrella of discrimination. Sexual harassment can be broken down into these different types of conduct:

  • ‘unwanted conduct’ related to a person’s sex – causing a distressing, humiliating or offensive environment for them
  • ‘unwanted conduct’ of a sexual nature
  • less favourable treatment of an employee because they have rejected sexual harassment or been the victim of it
  • treating an employee unfairly who has made or supported a complaint about sex discrimination.

What should you do if you receive a complaint about sexual harassment from an employee?

  1. treat every complaint of sexual harassment seriously and handle fairly, sensitively and promptly
  2. try to make the experience as stress free as possible for the complainant. if you receive a complaint, make arrangements to discuss the allegation as quickly and as reasonably as possible in a quiet and private space
  3. consider whether it might be appropriate to deal with the complaint informally in the first instance as once someone realises that people find their behaviour objectionable it is likely they will stop
  4. arrange a grievance meeting to investigate the allegation of sexual harassment if it is more appropriate to deal with the complaint formally. This should be conducted in accordance with your company and policy and confidentially.
  5. the complainant must be allowed to be accompanied by a work colleague or a trade union representative at the grievance investigation meeting. Sometimes it can help to allow the worker to be accompanied by a friend or family member but only if the employment contract permits it, or at the discretion of the employer
  6. you will need to decide whether or not the disciplinary procedure should be invoked or some other action taken, such as providing training or counselling, or whether no further action should be taken
  7. it is good practice to meet with the complainant following the outcome of the investigation to make sure no further harassment or victimisation has occurred. Equally a similar meeting should be held with the alleged harasser to make sure they have not been victimised
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