Sometimes employees encounter incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace by other employees or third parties. This is defined as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature”. In law, harassment is considered to be conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating the victim’s dignity or where it is creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment allegations can be particularly difficult for an employer to deal with due to the sensitive nature of the situation. There are huge potential risks to the business and you need to approach these allegations in a fair and impartial manner, otherwise you could face claims, not only from the victim but also from the individual whom they are accusing.  This can often be a difficult balance for employers and the matter needs to be managed with care.

Claims of sexual harassment can expose the business to potentially expensive outcomes, depending on the circumstances, how long the conduct has been ongoing and how the employer deals with the situation once it is brought to their attention.  It should also be considered, that this situation could  impact the culture within the business.

How do you protect your business and employees?

It is important that you have taken steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace. This includes ensuring that your harassment policy prohibits any form of sexual harassment, making it clear that matters will be dealt with in line with the disciplinary and grievance policies.

How should you deal with a claim?

If you receive a complaint from an employee, you should deal with the allegation quickly and sensitively by;

  • Inviting the alleged victim to a confidential meeting.
  • Inviting the alleged perpetrator to an investigation meeting to obtain more information.
  • Consider if it is necessary to speak with other staff members that may have witnessed the incident.
  • Deciding if it is appropriate to separate or suspend the individuals concerned. You will need to ensure that it is not seen as prejudging any decision.
  • Taking any disciplinary action that becomes necessary. This is a difficult step, as the actions you take will be confidential to the individual accused and you may not be able to inform the victim of the outcome and needs to be managed carefully to avoid a claim.

Throughout the investigation process, you should carefully review the evidence and remember that the victim does not need to prove the sexual harassment beyond all reasonable doubt. This should be balanced with ensuring that the alleged perpetrator is not immediately presumed guilty, as this can expose you to a separate risk of discrimination.

This can be a complex situation and we can assist you with the process to reduce your risk of exposure to an expensive discrimination claim.

Our Employment Law Team can provide expert advice. Contact us today to book your FREE 30 minute consultation.

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