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Calls for action on sexual harassment at work not being heeded

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There appears to be a huge gulf between calls for change on sexual harassment at work and action taken to tackle it.

A year on from the start of the #MeToo initiative, a poll by Acas shows that, although the vast majority of people know sexual harassment at work is unlawful and many staff think their employer is tackling it, “questions remain about how far we’ve come, and how far there is left to go”.

Conducted to help understand the impact of media reporting of #MeToo and high profile celebrity cases on sexual harassment at work, the survey found that only a quarter of workers agree that international media coverage has helped to improve their workplace culture.

It also found that 38% of workers would be “very likely” to report sexual harassment if they personally experienced it in their workplace, with 71% of them saying they would feel comfortable reporting it to their line manager.

More than half (58%) of respondents believe their current employer is doing about the right amount to reduce sexual harassment in their workplace — although 20% still think more should be done.

On the basis of the survey, Acas has identified four actions to help reduce sexual harassment at work:

  1. Better staff training.

  2. Updating existing policies and procedures for dealing with sexual harassment.

  3. Creating new policies and procedures.

  4. Making changes to legal protections.

“Businesses need to ensure that workplace environments are safe and welcoming places so that any type of sexual harassment behaviour never sees the light of day,” Julie Dennis of Acas said. “But if it does happen, then staff should feel confident to report this type of abuse.”

The Acas policy paper Sexual Harassment in the British Workplace:We All Know It's Wrong, So Why Is It So Difficult to Stop? is available at www.acas.org.uk.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director Kate Palmer

This reminds employers of the importance of ensuring that all claims of workplace sexual harassment are thoroughly investigated and responded to in the working environment.

Employers should bear in mind that they have a legal duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their workforce.

Employees should feel safe and supported while undertaking their role and if their employer does not appear to be doing enough to prevent this from occurring, or acting when there is an accusation, there can be a significant effect on overall employee morale and productivity.

Poor management of these situations can lead to members of staff taking long periods away from work or leaving their role entirely, alongside potentially resulting in ongoing damage to the company’s reputation.

It should also be remembered that employers can be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees if it is proven they knew about any instances of harassment and did not take action to prevent it, something that can lead to significant compensation claims.

Last reviewed 4 December 2018

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