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Weinstein Affair Reminds Employers of Responsibility To Safeguard

View profile for Shan Evans
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The recent slew of allegations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has been shocking for many reasons – not least because their scope and their extended timeline illustrate how reluctant victims can be to speak up, for fear of being disbelieved or victimised further.

This case gives all employers cause to examine their own company ethos, practices, and their policies and procedures.

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Under the act it is defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which violates a person’s dignity, makes them feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated, or creates a hostile or offensive environment.

A recent study into this damaging topic by the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project found that 52 percent of women had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work, though sexual harassment is something men contend with too.

It is wise for all employers to take note of the issue of sexual harassment, not simply because they should adhere to the law on these matters but also because sexual harassment – or any kind of harassment or bullying at work – is so very corrosive. It undermines workers’ confidence and self-esteem, it can lead to depression, it affects workplace performance. And, as we can see in the Weinstein case, it stymies careers.

Sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and bullying are areas some employers are acutely nervous about, since, in some industries, workplace banter is par for the course and bosses can be unsure where the line in the sand is, or where it should be. It is clear from the definition of sexual harassment above that sexual comments or jokes, unwelcome sexual advances, the displaying of sexual pictures, or the sending of emails with sexual content could all be deemed sexual harassment.

However, it is the responsibility of all employers to establish procedures which support victims of harassment and that, importantly, make it clear that harassment is unacceptable. An employer who fails to protect its employees from harassment is potentially in breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence with its employees and therefore, at risk of claims for constructive dismissal, amongst others.

 

Here are some pointers to help employers carry out their responsibilities:

Put a workplace policy in place

All organisations should establish an anti-bullying and harassment workplace policy setting out the type of behaviour that is unacceptable, how such behaviour will be dealt with, how an employee can make a complaint. This policy should be available to all members of staff, either in a written handbook or perhaps via the intranet.

Take complaints seriously

Any complaint of sexual harassment should be investigated quickly and professionally no matter what role or position alleged perpetrator holds within the company. An employer shouldn’t expect a complainant to supply proof of the incident – your investigation is deigned to gather any evidence.

Provide support

Consider how you can support your employee during any investigation. Making a complaint such as this takes courage and it can leave someone feeling isolated and vulnerable, so don’t banish them to the wilderness. Keep the complainant updated on the progress of the investigation and its outcome.

Train your staff

Give your line manager and HR team training on how to deal with complainants in a sensitive way, and extend training to your general workforce so they know what kind of behaviour is problematic and what is acceptable.

Be aware that if a complainant and an employer cannot solve an issue via the workplace grievance procedure the employee may be able to take the complaint to an employment tribunal.

Shân Evans is an Associate Solicitor at JCP Solicitors, specialising in Employment Law. The team also offers a highly-regarded outsourced HR Service. For detailed advice on Employment Law issues such as discrimination, contact Shân Evans on 029 2022 5472 at Shan.Evans@jcpsolicitors.co.uk

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