For a lot of individuals, due to the ongoing pandemic, their office environment has moved online, and whilst this has changed many things about how we conduct meetings and how we go about communicating with clients and colleagues, one thing it has not changed is the presence of sexual harassment in the (virtual) workplace.
Harassment, including sexual harassment that relates to any protected characteristics is illegal under the 2010 Equality Act, and for an individual who conducts such behaviour it can result in discrimination claims, dismissal, personal injury claims and even a position behind the defendant’s bench in a court of law.
For the employer, sexual harassment complaints are known to negatively impact productivity levels, increase employee turnover, as well as, result in publicly followed settlement cases, litigation processes, and court attendances, all of which are ultimately damaging to the reputation of the organisation. This risk is not reduced as we continue our transition into remote working, however the utilisation of technology such as screen and voice recording can make it easier to spot, record and produce time stamped evidence of sexual harassment.
As an employer, there are many steps you can take to tackle the presence of virtual sexual harassment.
- Prevention is key – Ensure employees know the law and organisational policies regarding harassment in the workplace, provide effective information regarding behaviours that are considered to be harassment and encourage open discussion between employees.
- Ongoing support for victims – Provide access to mental health support / discuss leave requirements for external mental health support if required. Discuss with the employee their conformability within the workplace and create a timeline regarding their return to work and re-integration.
- Anonymous reporting methods – are an effective process that allows employees to report situations of sexual harassment in an anonymous manner, ensuring these reports are taken seriously and responded to.
- Zero-tolerance policies – Commit to enforcing zero-tolerance policies regarding all forms of harassment including sexual harassment in the workplace.
It is crucial that employers treat any and all forms of harassment including sexual harassment seriously, and evidence of harassment needs to be fully investigated, and acted upon with haste.