Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment is a major contributor to a toxic workplace culture and is often underreported. To fulfil your duty of care to your people, it is vital that employers understand the impact of sexual harassment and the steps to take to prevent it.

Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Training - Tell Jane

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted sexual behaviour – physical or verbal, in person or online. It can be a single incident or a repeated pattern, and it can happen to anyone of any gender. Common examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances or propositions
  • Invasive questions and sexual comments
  • Degrading or sexually offensive jokes
  • Emails or messages with sexual content
  • Sharing or displaying pornographic material (text, drawings, photographs or videos)
  • Unwanted or inappropriate touching (which may also constitute sexual assault)

Sexual harassment is about power – it involves making someone feel uncomfortable, humiliated or intimidated. It may be perpetrated by colleagues, by clients or customers, or by managers or leaders.

Women report experiencing higher levels of sexual harassment, but men can also be victims. In addition, LGBT+ people may be at increased risk of sexual harassment on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.

What are the consequences of sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can make victims feel unsafe and unvalued at work, especially if incidents go unreported or complaints are not taken seriously. This has knock-on effects on mental health, motivation and team cohesion throughout your company.

In the era of #MeToo, sexual harassment is also likely to have reputational consequences. Tolerating harassment can mean losing out on talent and business, as potential employees and prospective clients increasingly choose to avoid unsafe workplaces and toxic company cultures. Plus, there are potential legal consequences. Under the Equality Act, sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination.

As an employer, you’re responsible for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, and this duty of care doesn’t stop at the end of the working day nor at the threshold of the office building. It encompasses any company sites and external work-related events (such as training days and social events), as well as the digital realm. When it comes to harassment by clients or customers, if a complaint is raised and no action is taken to stop the harassment, the employer is likely to be held liable.

If you’re concerned about sexual harassment and your workplace, contact our team today for confidential advice and practical guidance.

We can help

Sexual harassment has a serious impact on your employees and, in the long run, your business.

Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Training - Tell Jane

How to tackle sexual harassment

Prevention is better than cure. Strive to create a culture of openness and respect, where people are attentive to one another’s boundaries. Consider investing in sexual harassment awareness training, but make sure it’s not just a box-ticking exercise. Tell Jane’s bespoke training provides practical, interactive content aimed at fostering genuine engagement and collective responsibility.

Victims of sexual harassment often experience feelings of shame and self-doubt, and many fear the consequences of speaking out, especially if the harasser is in a position of authority. That means it’s vital to provide platforms for employees to seek advice anonymously, such as Tell Jane’s freephone hotline. This can also help you gain a clear picture of the situation in your workplace and deal with any toxic undercurrents before they get out of hand.

Ensure you have robust policies and procedures in place to respond to sexual harassment complaints. In the event that an employee reports harassment, take it seriously and deal with it head-on. It’s best practice to work with a third party to conduct a fair and thorough investigation without the risk of bias creeping in. Tell Jane’s experienced HR professionals can provide independent investigations and help you handle complaints.

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