Sexual harassment procedures

Sexual harassment causes misery, affects performance, and reduces team morale. Ensure that your workplace has a clear zero-tolerance policy with formal procedures in place

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 14, 2024

At your workplace and external work events, you are responsible for sexual harassment — which can mean paying compensation and damage to your reputation. The average tribunal award is over £14,000.

It’s estimated around half of women and many men are sexually harassed at some point in their careers. Many are too afraid to report it, but there are efforts to change that.

That’s why you should take sexual harassment very seriously — and be ready to follow a proper procedure when a female or male employee makes a complaint.

Prep line managers to deal with sexual harassment issues

It’s likely the first senior staff member to become aware of a sexual harassment issue is a line manager. They might either receive a complaint from an employee, or observe it themselves. Make sure line managers:

  • Understand the seriousness of sexual harassment and the damage it can cause
  • Have current knowledge of harassment law and what constitutes sexual harassment
  • Have the people skills to handle sexual harassment complaints fairly and sensitively
  • Know and follow your sexual harassment complaint procedure
  • Seek help from HR if needed

Create a harassment policy

Having a formal policy on sexual harassment promotes fair and equal treatment of all employees, and gives management the tools they need to handle a complaint.

A typical policy will:

  • Define harassment, so employees and managers know what is unacceptable and when they can complain
  • Make clear what action your organisation will take on sexual harassment
  • Send a very clear message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated

Receiving a sexual harassment complaint

You should take every sexual harassment complaint seriously. It takes courage to speak out on harassment, and it’s vital you deal with the issue promptly and confidentially. It’s never a good idea dismiss the complaint without an investigation, or to take sides.

  • Start by listening to the complaint and gathering the facts
  • Refer to your harassment policy, and get HR help if needed
  • Take action

Taking action

Dealing with a complaint informally

Not all harassment can be dealt with informally — serious misconduct requires a formal procedure from the off. After establishing there is a problem, speak to the harasser about their behaviour and ask them to stop. Make sure they understand the seriousness of the issue. Support the complainant throughout.

Dealing with a complaint formally

If an employee makes a formal complaint, or you decide the problem can’t be resolved informally, formal proceedings may be necessary. Typically, this will involve:

  • Informing both parties that a complaint has been received and of your investigation, including a time frame. Both parties have the right to be accompanied at any meetings you hold.
  • A fair and thorough investigation. If possible this should be carried out by a manager with no connection to either party.
  • Keeping written records of all proceedings. If the complaint goes to tribunal, you will need to show you have taken all reasonable steps to handle the complaint and stop further harassment.
  • Making your decision. You should communicate this in writing.
  • Further action if necessary. This might include further support for the victim, disciplinary action, or reintegration into work for either or both parties.

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

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