A leading Warrington employment lawyer is urging employers to ensure that effective measures are in place to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.
The call comes after the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released a report, Turning the tables: ending sexual harassment at work, which identified that employers are not doing enough to protect their employees from sexual harassment.
It identified widespread failure by employers to appropriately tackle the issue.
Latham Parry, partner and head of employment law at Watsons Solicitors, which represents both employees and employers in such matters, said: “The report identifies various failures and suggests that employers are simply not doing enough to protect their staff, as well as not dealing with complaints adequately or fairly.
“It’s a hot topic and high-profile cases are giving more people the confidence to come forward.
“As well as providing a better and safer workplace, employers could also minimise the risk of having to deal with complaints and costly tribunal claims. Employers can be held responsible for the actions of their employees which are carried out in the ‘course of their employment’ – this obviously includes normal working hours but can extend to other work events and work nights out.
Latham, who has more than a decade of experience in employment law and joined Watsons as a partner in 2015, offered this advice for protecting against, and dealing with sexual harassment cases.
He added: “The key message employers should get across to staff is that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
“Worryingly, some people don’t know what can amount to sexual harassment. For example, what was considered acceptable 50 years ago is not acceptable today. Society has changed.
“In addition, sexual harassment is not defined only by the intent of the conduct, but also by reference to the effect on the victim. Language or actions which someone might consider harmless can still constitute harassment if it nevertheless creates a degrading or offensive environment for another person, or if their dignity is violated.
“Five steps which can be taken to help protect staff, create a better working environment, and reduce the risk of having to deal with costly claims are:”
- Have a clear policy in place. Harassment is often covered in a bullying and harassment policy, or perhaps an equal opportunities policy, but make specific reference to sexual harassment and set out the potential consequences for breaching the policy.
- Raise awareness and ensure that members of staff read and understand the policy. Use practical examples of what can constitute sexual harassment so there can be no uncertainty – what someone might consider to be ‘banter’ can be taken very differently by another person and can still amount to harassment.
- Encourage the reporting of unacceptable behaviour and provide support to those who speak out. Make sure any complaint is properly investigated and dealt with, and seek advice from your HR team or an employment lawyer if in any doubt about what to do.
- Provide training to managers so they can identify unacceptable behaviour and help to handle situations properly, helping to change workplace culture.
- Discipline the perpetrator appropriately. It’s important to demonstrate the consequences of not adhering to the policy otherwise people will lose trust and confidence in the employer.
If you have any queries regarding sexual harassment, please speak to our employment team on 01925 571 212.
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