How to Handle a Sexual Harassment Claim

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Over the past three or four weeks, the news has been filled with stories and allegations against shamed producer and executive, Harvey Weinstein, after it was revealed that he has a long history of sexual harassment towards Hollywood actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Lupita Nyong’o.

This resulted in an eruption of discussion, and the online campaign #MeToo, amongst men and women who have experienced some type of sexual assault or harassment at some point in their life, including in the workplace.

Parliament recently revealed that they will introduce a ‘zero tolerance’ stance on sexual harassment (about time) and we’re sure it won’t end there.

But how can you eradicate sexual harassment from your business, and how do you handle any claims that are brought to you by an employee?

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is when unwanted sexual advances or comments are made towards an individual or a group of people.

This can range from an inappropriate comment to physical assault – any action that violates the dignity or personal space of another person, leaving them feeling uncomfortable or even fearful of their safety.

What should my policy say about sexual harassment?

Every workplace policy should include some mention of sexual harassment, and if yours doesn’t then you should consider writing something up, particularly in this current climate.

A zero-tolerance policy is the stance that should be taken, advising employees that such acts could be deemed gross misconduct and may result in dismissal following a disciplinary process.

It should also outline the steps that must be taken if you have been harassed, such as who you should report it to and the process that will follow.

What should I do if an employee has been sexually harassed?

If an employee(s) approaches you with a claim of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace, whether it was from a fellow colleague or a more senior member of staff, it should be treated with sensitivity and taken very seriously.

An investigation should be carried out, as with any misconduct claim, and witnesses should be interviewed, statements should be made and, potentially, the accused party should be suspended on full pay pending further investigation.

If your investigation reveals that there is sufficient evidence, then a decision should be made and an appropriate course of action should be taken; typically, this would be immediate dismissal.
Throughout this process you should provide as much support as possible to the victim. For example, continued communication to ensure the wellbeing of your employee and even offering them counselling if they would like it.

Sexual harassment is a tough topic, but it needs to be addressed and handled well to avoid unfair dismissal claims or upsetting/alienating an employee.

If you would like some advice on how to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, then you can call us on 0121 348 7838 to book a free consultation!

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