Research has found that victims of sexual harassment at work, are put off reporting it to their employers and HR departments, and when they do, they feel that they are not adequately supported.
A Every Day Sexism conducted by the TUC and the Everyday Sexism Project, has discovered that 63% of women aged between 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment while they are at work. But a disappointing 79% of people on the receiving end of this type of harassment chose to keep it from their employer completely.
Out of this section of employees, 28% said they believed that reporting it would have a negative effect on their relationships at work, 20% were simply too embarrassed or believed that their complaints wouldn’t be taken seriously by their employer, and 15% were concerned that it could harm their future career.
It is of course vital that employers are seen to be approachable, so victims will be able to get the help they need and employers can take necessary action. Every employee must feel that they are able to challenge inappropriate behaviour, to be able to support colleagues and to feel confident to report incidences of sexual harassment, regardless of whether the perpetrator is in a junior or senior role to them.
Making sure that the appropriate measures are in place will help to increase workplace cohesion, and will cement a positive relationship between those working for a company, and the HR department who are in place to provide support.
Every employer has a legal duty of care to look after their employees. This includes dealing with cases of staff harassment that happens at any staff level. If employers fail to do this then then they could end up losing an employee due to resignation or sick leave, but could also land the employer in an expensive tribunal.
What can employers do?
Make sure staff know who to contact
Staff should be made aware of exactly who they can talk to if they experience any such issues. There should be more than one identified person available for staff to come to. The risk of there just being one contact person is that they could be away, the employee may not feel comfortable approaching them and of course, they could be the individual that the staff member has issues with.
Simply having the knowledge of who they are able to go to if there are any problems, can help staff to feel more supported and comfortable in the workplace, and more willing to seek help and advice when needed.
A large proportion of managers are not actually trained on acceptable behaviour in the workplace and for many may actually find that they have crossed the line without even realising. In companies that offer this training, it has been found that employee satisfaction is much higher, and incidences of sexual harassment is generally lower than in organisations where no such training is provided.
It is crucial that steps are taken to ensure that everybody in the workplace knows what counts as sexual harassment, and what can be done about it if it is seen to be taking place.
Having a protocol that outlines how to deal with sexual harassment is important. It will not only provide a policy about how to handle complaints, but also how to deal with staff who have been found to be demonstrating inappropriate behaviour and the consequences of such behaviour. It will show staff that any complaints received are taken seriously and acted on. This is likely to encourage employees to come forward and report the harassment.