The media has been filled with articles on sexual harassment scandals that have brought internal complaints policies and procedures to the attention of many HR professionals and business owners. The news stories have highlighted that having functioning and thorough internal complaints investigation procedures is very important in ensuring a healthy and harassment/discrimination free workplace.
You might not have had to deal with any harassment claims in your business but the scandals that we are seeing serve as a good reminder for employers to be more vigilant with harassment in the workplace. Whilst not having any complaints is a great place to be it is important that you take regular measures of ensuring that harassment is prevented and not tolerated in the workplace.
What should employers do to prevent and address sexual harassment?
1. Set Out Expectations
As a starting point, you need to ensure that you have HR policies in place that set out expectations of the behaviours that are not acceptable and therefore would not be tolerated in the workplace. This can be in a form of a separate policy on Diversity, Equality, Harassment and Bullying or a general Code of Conduct.
You should also have a written policy of your formal disciplinary procedures that sets out the process that you would go through should any unacceptable behaviours take place. These might be included in your employee handbook if you have one available.
2. Train Your Employees
Once you have the policies in place you need to ensure that your employees and managers are aware of them and have been given training in these areas. As an employer you cannot control all of the behaviours of your employees, but you can train your employees on the behaviours that you want them to display or that they should not display.
Should your employees behave in a way that is inappropriate, you would be deemed to have taken appropriate measures to prevent such employee issues if you provide regular training on these topics to your workforce. This would come in extremely handy if you ever find yourself in a tribunal with allegations of harassment or discrimination.
3. Investigate Allegations Carefully
If any of your employees raises concerns whether in writing or verbally to a manager or your HR team, make sure that appropriate investigations take place. Sometimes it might not seem that there are serious issues to look into but you do not want to be taking a chance with ignoring a concern that might transpire to be a serious case of harassment or discrimination.
Taking allegations and concerns that are raised with you seriously, you will also be acting as a responsible employer that wants to ensure that the workplace is free from any such behaviours.
4. Keep Records of Any Actions Taken
As you may already know, should you ever have to go to an employment tribunal having written evidence of decisions, actions taken, reasons for actions taken and any important communications with employees becomes a crucial part of giving you a sound case.
If employees raise concerns verbally, you can always keep your own records of investigations that you took and the findings of any such investigations. If however, there is a more formal complaint then you must keep full records of any actions taken or important communications between everyone involved. Remember that a tribunal judge will only go by what they can see in front of them as evidence.
We truly hope that you are never in a situation where you have to deal with allegations of harassment or discrimination but if you do find yourself in such a spot, we will be happy to help you manage the whole process. We have a team of experienced consultants that in their careers have had to deal with various allegations from internal processes all the way through to employment tribunals.