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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
The employee maintained (in his defence) that he was not aware that the woman wouldn’t appreciate the grope and, now he knew, he wouldn’t do it again. The Judge refused to accept the argument. If she allowed it, she stated, then she would be giving permission to every male employee to grope every female employee just once!
When action is needed
Allegations of sexual harassment (and indeed other harassment) need to be taken seriously and especially so where a more senior employee could be taking advantage of a more junior one. The temptation may be to brush such matters under the carpet but education and mediation is a better approach, unless the allegation is very serious when disciplinary action needs to be considered. Often a genuine apology will resolve an issue. Where that does not succeed (and therefore a complaint continues) then investigation will invariably be needed. A recent blog on this site discussed how to investigate in such situations. If appropriate, then disciplinary action (including dismissal) can be used to make the employer’s position clear. But all such cases of harassment are potentially difficult to handle. There is, therefore, a strong argument for involving an experienced outside party to assist with the processes whether it be education, mediation, investigation or discipline.
Closing the stable door first - put policies in place
But much of this would be action after the horse has bolted! To prevent such events in the first instance, employers need to use induction programmes to remind new employees of the need for respectful behaviour. An equal opportunity should be in place which covers the need to respect individuals in respect of race, disabilities, sexual orientation – and another three “protected characteristics”, which include sex. To be able to take appropriate action, employers need to also list sexual and other harassment in their disciplinary rules and to have a bullying and harassment policy.
Equal opportunity policy
- make sure it covers harassment
- make sure employees are clear about actions you may take
Bullying and harassment policy
- guide employees as to what to do if they feel bullied or harassed
- brief employees so they understand acceptable standards of workplace behaviour
Malcolm Martin – QCS Expert Human Resources Contributor
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