Managing harassment in the workplace

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The MIA’s business helpline partner Croner have put together some very useful tips on managing harassment at work…

Businesses in the UK have been deeply concerned by the claims of sexual harassment in the workplace against movie-mogul Harvey Weinstein.

To help employers protect your workforces, our Employment Law Experts have put together 7 helpful steps for managing harassment of all types in the workplace.

1. Know what Harassment is and Who it Applies to

Amy Paxton, Senior Lawyer, at Croner, says: “Harassment is unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic that, intentionally or unintentionally, has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive working environment for him or her.

“Each person has the right to decide what behaviour is either acceptable or unacceptable. If an individual finds certain behaviour unacceptable and he or she feels damaged by it, then that individual has every right to say so, and his or her right to do so must be respected.

“People can be subjected to harassment on a wide variety of grounds. These include sex, sexual orientation, race, disability, age and religious beliefs.”

2. Communicate ‘Zero Tolerance’ to your Employees

Employees should be informed as to ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’ acceptable conduct and behaviour in the workplace and the possible consequences.

It may be that they do not realise what behaviour may amount to harassment in the workplace.

Examples of harassment include: offensive jokes, lewd comments, unwanted physical contact, offensive pictures, speculation about someone’s private life, threats of sexual violence and deliberately isolating a colleague.

3. Equal Opportunities and Diversity Training

You should provide this training and ensure it is repeated regularly so that employees are familiar with your company’s policies.

It is also important for employees to understand that different behaviour is acceptable in work than is acceptable in a social setting.

4. Be Accessible and Vigilant

Employees should be encouraged to report any behaviour they believe to amount to harassment to their line manager in the first instance, as soon as possible.

Managers should remain alert and tackle any inappropriate behaviour immediately. It is important not to dismiss inappropriate workplace behaviour as “the norm”.

5. Investigate the Complaint

You must follow a set process and deal with any harassment complaint quickly, without delay.

Even if you feel that there is no genuine complaint or no substance to a complaint, you should not ignore it.

View our 8 Top Tips for investigating a complaint of Harassment.

6. Have a disciplinary procedure in place

If during your investigation it becomes apparent that there is no substance to the complaint – you need to meet with the complainant and explain in a sensitive way your findings.

You should confirm whether any further action is necessary, such as a ‘Clear The Air’ meeting or some sort of mediation.

If during the investigation, it becomes apparent that the allegations of harassment are well founded, they should be dealt with in accordance with your business’ disciplinary procedure.

View our 5 Disciplinary Procedure Essentials for cases of Harassment visit.

7. Support the Complainant

It is important for the complainant to be kept informed of the situation and reassured that the company is taking their concerns seriously and is in the process of addressing them.

While it will not be appropriate to confirm the sanction imposed, they do need to know that the matter has been dealt with appropriately. You should also look at ways to support the complainant moving forward.

Please note that if the complainant has raised the complaint as a formal grievance, the process must be followed and concluded in full.

If the complainant goes off on sick leave during the investigation process, or before they raise a formal grievance, the Manager should maintain contact and reassure the complainant that their concerns are being taken seriously. Conversations should also take place in terms of how the company can help or support them in returning to work.

MIA members benefit from FREE advice from Croner.  Email alice@mia.org.uk or call 01403 800500 for the exclusive Business Support Helpline scheme number.

https://croner.co.uk/