Can you honestly say that harassment is not a risk to your business?

#MeToo – a year on

I just want to touch on something which we’re dealing with more and more at the moment and that’s the issue of harassment. Now about a year ago there was a huge campaign around #MeToo when lots of people came forward and started talking about their experiences of harassment and abuse in the workplace. A year later and we now are seeing more and more people coming forward with allegations of harassment either against their employer or against colleagues within the workplace. One thing to remember with this is that harassment doesn’t just have to be male on female.

There are a lot of people who think that harassment is just sexual harassment, generally a male figure against a female figure. However, we’re seeing an increase in people putting in allegations of harassment based on their disability or their age. We are also seeing female on female harassment and male on male harassment and people don’t think about that in terms of sexual harassment, but it is very very genuine! It’s something which can be as difficult, if not harder to manage, as male on female harassment.

And then there is the one which is even less commonly talked about and that is female on male harassment. There are situations where a female boss or a female manager harasses a junior male member of staff, and that’s even harder to manage because very often the male pride won’t allow them to actually come forward and tell people that they are being harassed. It may be sexual harassment, it may be bullying but however it manifests itself within the workplace, it is unacceptable.

The important thing to remember as an employer is that you have a duty of care to protect all of the staff in your workplace. This includes not only the physical environment, which is what everybody thinks of as the traditional ‘health and safety’ and the dreaded risk assessment, but also in terms of their mental wellbeing and the mental environment in which they work. As a line manager or as a business owner and an employer, if an employee feels that you haven’t done what you need to do to protect them or you haven’t taken their allegations seriously or you don’t have a policy in place to protect people, then actually you can be held liable. So, even if you are not actually involved in the situation yourself, if you don’t carry out an investigation and you don’t actually gather evidence and you just tell someone to ‘grow up and get a spine’ that’s no longer acceptable and, as the business owner, you can be held responsible for the behaviour of your staff. It doesn’t even just have to be employees who can bring this kind of claim, so volunteers within your organisation may also have claims against you, as could suppliers or clients. So, for example, if one of your employees starts to text a client inappropriately and perhaps that text contains unwanted content, is sexually explicit or they keep asking them out on a date because they genuinely really like them but perhaps the person keeps saying ‘no!’ then that can also be seen as harassment and you need to take action as soon as you are made aware of it – especially if they are using a company mobile phone! Harassment is something which people really don’t want to think about and which traditionally people have turned a blind eye to. Today, harassment is a much wider issue than the traditional image of male on female sexual harassment in the workplace.

Over the next few weeks and months we’re going to be talking about this subject more and more because we’re seeing an increasing number of claims and what we want to do is educate people, make sure that people are aware of the situation but also try and get some training in, so that if there are difficult situations and difficult conversations to be had, then as an employer, you know how to manage those situations and you know what you can say, what you can’t say, what you should do and what you absolutely shouldn’t do. So stay tuned and keep an eye on our Facebook page and other social media channels for more information.


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