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Tackling sexual harassment at work

The news is full of stories at the moment of organisations who failed to investigate complaints of inappropriate behaviour. Let’s just look at one area: sexual harassment. There is often a great deal of confusion about what constitutes harassment whether or not it's just 'office banter' and over sensitive individuals. 

What is harassment? 
 
It's worth reminding ourselves of how the EHRC (Equalities and Human Rights Commission) defines the difference. They say: “Conduct which has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for someone can be harassment, even if creating that kind of environment was not the intention behind the conduct". 
 
In any organisation there are a range of attitudes among employees about what kind of behaviour passes as intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive. What one, or even a majority, might see as harmless fun and banter, even as a compliment, another may find unacceptable. They may consider the complainant to be oversensitive, prudish, or to have elicited the harassment through their appearance or behaviour. But behaviour can amount to sexual harassment even if the person doing it or those who witness it do not view it that way.
 
So what should organisations do? 
 
I was listening to an interview today about a case where it was suggested that as the women who were complaining did not want to pursue an employment tribunal there was nothing the employer could do. This is a dangerous approach to take. 
 
We know that often there is information available in our workplaces that individually may not seem to indicate a serious concern but put together with other information starts to build a picture of patterns of behaviour that are disturbing. It is the employers responsibility to have a duty of care for all employees and to investigate where there are questions to be answered. There are those employers who would rather sweep matters under the carpet, and this goes for all sorts of issues that employees whistle blow about, complain about or raise with HR departments. 
 
The stories we are seeing in Health, in the Saville case and in more recent political scandals show us very clearly the damage wrought not just to the victims of the action but also to the reputation of organisations and the careers of senior executives and politicians. 
 
Next time something looks, wrong, sounds wrong and smells wrong, guess what? It probably is wrong. 
 

Follow your instincts HR and sweep nothing under the carpet. What do you  think? 

 
 

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