Dealing With & Reporting Sexual Harassment At Work

As a manager of any-sized organisation, you may need to deal with a sexual harassment complaint at work, so it’s vital that not only do you know what to do next, but you know how to support your employees. It should also be made clear within your company that you have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, to ensure that not only you’re putting in a preventative measure, but that your employees feel confident to report it should an incident occur. Looking after your employees should be of utmost importance to any business owner, and ensuring the right policies are in place should be your number one priority to ensure staff safety.

Sexual Harassment Law UK

The Sexual Harassment Law comes under the Equality Act of 2010, deeming it sexual harassment if someone engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or that is related to gender reassignment or sex. It also references that if the victim is treated less favourably after advances were rejected within the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 recognises harassment in many forms, including against religions, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, race and disability. If any complaint of this kind is received within your workplace, it is important that as the employer you deal with it and ensure your employees feel safe and secure in reporting harassment.

How to Deal With Sexual Harassment

Ensure you take all complaints seriously, something which may seem minute to you will not always to the victim, so it’s important to listen and understand what they are telling you. You need to inform anyone involved about the complaint and make sure that you handle it quickly to ensure the best course of action possible. In these situations, you need to keep an open mind and be understanding, it’s important to remember that any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature comes under the sexual harassment law, so listen, accept and support your employee.

Ensure that you never encourage someone to think about whether they want to go ahead with the complaint or cast any doubt as to whether it is legitimate. You should also never get an employee to sign a non-disclosure agreement or attempt to stop them from reporting a crime. Ultimately, you should focus on dealing with the complaint and showing support to the victim.

As an employer it is vital to remember that all complaints, whether they are new or old, need to be taken seriously. Sometimes it can take the victim a while to come forward and report the incident – this should never be viewed in a negative way. It is important to not judge the victim for the length of time it has taken them to come forward, nor what they have said. The employer should always listen and be prepared to take the appropriate action in all circumstances.

Reporting Sexual Harassment at Work

Reporting sexual harassment should be an easy process, it is a difficult thing for any employee to discuss with their superior, so the process should not be made more difficult than necessary. The victim needs to feel safe and supported from the beginning, they need to feel confident and comfortable in making their complaint. It is important for yourself and the employee to have somewhere private to talk so it can be discussed in detail to allow the process of dealing with the complaint to begin, and it’s just as important to be offering the employee continued support throughout the process.

Privacy is key, so it is not only important to have somewhere to talk, but it’s important that as the employer you need to be aware that you’re dealing with a confidential matter and that you are trained to deal with a complaint of that nature. There should also be a range of different people that a complaint can be reported to, this is to ensure that there is no abuse of power in terms of management and that employees can still report their manager to someone else.

Usually, it would be good to be able to have four people to report sexual harassment claims to, including: 

  • Your line manager
  • A more senior manager
  • Staff specifically trained to deal with sexual harassment complaints
  • A trade union representative

Your Responsibility As An Employer

As the employer it is vital for you to play a key part in the process of getting justice and investigating the complaint. Firstly, confidentiality is vital, reports of this nature should not be shared around the office and only the people who are directly involved should be aware of the proceedings. Assess the circumstances, as other employees may need to be protected; for example, if the circumstances are particularly serious, you may consider suspending the employee while you’re dealing with the complaint and assessing the next steps. The employer is responsible for handling the next steps as they look into the complaint, which is why it is preferable to assess it as quickly and accurately as possible. 

With training, employers will know the correct action to take and how to assess the information provided, ultimately allowing them to make an informed decision on disciplinary action. If it’s possible, you should keep the person who made the complaint informed as to what is going on, though it should be under the condition that it remains confidential. If, in the event that the person is not dismissed, the employee should be offered counselling and the person whom the complaint is about should be given more equality training to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

Stopping Sexual Harassment in The Workplace

It needs to be made clear within your organisation that there is a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment; the rest of your policies need to be consistent with this to ensure you are keeping all of your staff members safe. If there is anything to report, the process should be easy, this is likely to encourage employees to report something, therefore acting as an additional deterrent – any deterrent within the organisation will add to your zero-tolerance policy, making it less likely that an employee will make inappropriate comments and/or actions of a sexual nature. When you have policies in place, it will be useful for you to consult with an expert, like ICENA, who specialises in courses and training on supporting victims of sexual harassment. 

Staff members should be trained often on what the Sexual Harassment UK law states, as well as the Equality act 2010 to ensure that they’re fully aware of what constitutes harassment and what will not be tolerated within a work environment. It needs to be made clear that there are severe consequences for sexual harassment and that as an employer, you will never cover up a complaint, nor make an employee feel as though their job is at risk due to making a complaint. 

To ensure you are in line with the best course of action to support employees in your workplace when dealing with sexual harassment, you can contact the team at ICENA for specific training, advice and support.