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FAQs: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace for Employers

Our expert Employment lawyers address common questions from Employers about Sexual Harassment in the workplace.
  1. What should I do if an employee tells me they have been sexually harassed?
  2. What should I do if a director of my company is accused of sexual harassment?
  3. What steps can I take to minimise the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace?
  4. What policies should I follow if an employee complains about sexual harassment in the workplace?
  5. Are employers liable for the actions of their staff?
  6. Can I use a non-disclosure agreement to cover up allegations of sexual harassment?

What should I do if an employee tells me they have been sexually harassed?

It is important that they are encouraged to provide as much information as necessary in order for you to investigate. This will need to be done sensitively. You will need to advise the employee that these allegations will need to be put before the alleged perpetrator in order for them to defend themselves. Check whether  it would be appropriate for the complainant to contact the police and ask whether they want support in order to do this. Check that the complainant is agreeable to you informing their line manager and HR.

What should I do if a director of my company is accused of sexual harassment?

The complainant should be asked to set out a full written statement with dates and full details of what occurred. The alleged perpetrator should be invited to an investigation meeting and show this and asked for their comments. Notes of this meeting should be taken. If appropriate, a decision should be taken as to whether to suspend this director while further investigations are undertaken. This is normally the case where it is felt that the director might impede an investigation by deleting emails or by putting pressure on witnesses. It is important to limit information about this allegation to appropriate people such as HR, and if you need to interview witnesses, a sensitive approach is necessary to protect both the complainant and the alleged perpetrator until there is enough evidence to proceed with a disciplinary process.

What steps can I take to minimise the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace?

Employers have a duty of care to protect their staff from unlawful discrimination, including sexual harassment. There are some practical steps that every employer can take to minimise the chance of sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Ensure that policies for harassment are clear, up to date, and made available to all employees
  • Deal with any complaints immediately, effectively and thoroughly without coming to any decisions until the investigation has been completed
  • Provide training for all staff and managers to ensure staff understand their rights and responsibilities
  • Create an inclusive and supportive culture where individuals feel that they will be taken seriously if they report inappropriate behaviour, and that this will be followed up

What policies should I follow if an employee complains about sexual harassment in the workplace?

It may be appropriate to follow your Company’s Bullying and Harassment, Equal Opportunities, Grievance or Disciplinary Policy, depending on the facts of the case.

If the evidence is conclusive, then it would be more appropriate to proceed to discipline the alleged perpetrator rather than to expect the complainant to go down the grievance route. If either a grievance or a disciplinary hearing goes ahead, then the complainant is entitled to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative in the grievance. If it is a disciplinary hearing, the alleged perpetrator is entitled to be accompanied.

Are employers liable for the actions of their staff?

The Equality Act 2010 states that an employer has a duty to prevent sexual harassment at work. An employer is generally liable for the actions of their staff and this includes sexual harassment that takes place outside the usual work environment – for example, at a Christmas party or after a conference or training event.

An employer will have a defence if they are able to demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to prevent their employees from sexually harassing or assaulting other members of staff.  This could include enforcing the company’s Alcohol and Drug Misuse Policy so that all staff are limited to the amount of alcohol that is provided by the company and managers are expected to lead by example.

Can I use a non-disclosure agreement to cover up allegations of sexual harassment?

It is important that any Settlement Agreement which contains confidentiality clauses does not prevent an individual from notifying regulatory authorities or law enforcement authorities of wrongdoing. They should not to be used to prevent employees from making disclosures, or taking action in the criminal courts.

If you need advice on Sexual Harassment in the workplace, our expert Employment Law Solicitors can help. Contact us today on 01273 609911, or email info@ms-solicitors.co.uk.

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