Employment News

News added on 19.08.2019

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Harassment

More than one in ten retail workers have experienced inappropriate touching

According to a new survey, more than one in ten retail workers have experienced inappropriate touching of a sexual nature from either a work colleague or customer while at work in their current role. What should you be doing to combat sexual harassment and other such unacceptable behaviour in your workplace?

The survey of over 1,000 retail workers, commissioned by law firm Foot Anstey LLP, also found that, of those who reported seeing or experiencing inappropriate touching at work, 51% said a colleague had carried out the act, while 27% reported it having been carried out by a customer. In addition, over a third of those who reported experiencing such behaviour believed their employer could have done more to prevent it happening in the first place. The survey comes at a time when employment tribunal claims for sexual harassment are increasing following the #MeToo movement.

The Equality Act 2010 defines sexual harassment as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature” which has “the purpose or effect of violating [the employee’s] dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for them. Harassment can be verbal or physical, for example, making sexual comments and jokes, inappropriate touching and unwelcome sexual advances.

To combat sexual harassment and other such unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, first ensure that you have a robust dignity at work policy in place which is promulgated throughout the workplace and which sets out a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, includes examples of the types of behaviour that are unacceptable, provides disciplinary sanctions up to and including gross misconduct dismissal for breach and outlines how employees should report any complaints and how they will be dealt with.

However, having a policy in place is not, by itself, enough to protect you from vicarious liability for your employees’ acts of sexual harassment. Therefore, you must also have a mandatory dignity at work training programme in place. Line managers need to receive training both to recognise what constitutes harassment and to effectively deal with it when it does happen, and employees need to receive practical training on what is and is not appropriate behaviour in the workplace, particularly in relation to the “greyer” areas such as workplace banter. Training should be conducted on a regular basis, for example for all new recruits as part of their induction and then annual staff refresher training. Ensure attendees sign an attendance record which confirms their attendance at the training and understanding of it.

Finally, where an employee makes a sexual harassment allegation, you must deal with it in a sensitive manner. Investigate the allegation promptly and take it seriously, even if it has been made against a director or senior manager. In addition, consider how you can support the employee during the investigation, e.g. temporarily changing reporting lines. Keep the employee informed of the progress of the investigation and its outcome. Where the complaint is upheld, take firm action against the perpetrator. You could also enable employees to report any unwanted conduct through an anonymous service, so as to encourage staff to come forward who may not otherwise have done so.

Ensure you have a dignity at work policy in place, regularly train employees on appropriate behaviour in the workplace and line managers on how to recognise and deal with sexual harassment and take any complaints seriously and investigate them promptly. Also, foster a workplace culture that supports victims of sexual harassment and be ready to take disciplinary action against any employee perpetrators.

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