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30.09.2020

Employer concern: Sexual harassment in the workplace

By Barry McCrory

Sexual harassment in the workplace has been under the spotlight recently following some high-profile employees speaking out about their experiences.

The media coverage follows research that found Ireland has a high rate of claimed sexual harassment by global standards. Therefore, Irish employers need to be proactive in taking steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace by putting policies and procedures in place to deal with any issues that might arise.

Misunderstanding of what amounts to sexual harassment

Part of the problem is that many employees aren’t familiar with the behaviour that amounts to sexual harassment. It’s common for staff who have an allegation made against them to say they didn’t realise they were behaving inappropriately.

Therefore, it’s vital to have a clear policy in place setting out what constitutes, or defines, sexual harassment. It should also be clarified in the disciplinary policy that sexual harassment could lead to dismissal for gross misconduct. If following an investigation, an employee is found to have sexually harassed a colleague, the policy should make it clear that the employee may face the sanction of dismissal without notice or pay in lieu of notice depending on the severity of the offence.

Sexual harassment definition

Sexual harassment is any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, which offends a person’s dignity and creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person. It’s the victim who decides what is unwanted behaviour irrespective of the views of his/her colleagues.

Some examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Non-verbal conduct: Suggestive looks, suggestive symbols, pictures, written communications, emails, or text messages.
  • Verbal conduct: Propositions, suggestive comments, jokes, innuendo or persistent invitations, suggestions to meet outside the workplace.
  • Inappropriate physical conduct: Groping, kissing, pinching, unnecessary touching up to sexual assaults.
  • Gender-based conduct: Conduct that ridicules or intimidates an employee because of his/her sex, including abuse or insults which are gender related.

Reputational damage

Sexual harassment poses a huge risk to all businesses. Not only will it need a lot of management to deal with the problem internally, it also has the potential to cause irreversible reputational damage.

Policies and training

In relation to the above information, it’s vital that you have appropriate sexual harassment policies and procedures in place. Likewise, employees with management responsibilities need training in how to carry out an appropriate investigation (if an external third party is not carrying out the investigation) into a sexual harassment complaint.

Management should also be aware of how to recognise sexual harassment signs in team members who may be reluctant to report an incident.

Need our help?

If you would like further complimentary advice on sexual harassment from an expert, our advisors are ready to take your call. Call us on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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