In part 1 of our look at harassment in the workplace, we covered how the issue has never had a bigger profile and that the standards, rules, policies, and attitudes that currently prevail, will have to be revised. So, what should employers be doing now? The following advice has been based on findings and recommendations of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the International Journal of Discrimination & The Law, The Employment Lawyers Association and some very specific and robust legal cases and judgements.
Is it really necessary to update our workplace harassment policies?
Just in case you think that your procedures for workplace harassment don’t need reassessing and our what you need to do list is a ‘nice to have’ rather than essential, take a look at these quotes from recent UK Tribunal judgements – (CAPITALS for emphasis!) Also, be aware that it’s not just you as an employer who needs to be following best practice. You can be held vicariously liable for the actions of your managers and employees too.
“Having an Equal Opportunities Policy, issuing staff with training workbooks with sections on dignity at work and equality and diversity, together with questionnaires that staff were required to complete and regularly updating the material WAS NOT SUFFICIENT!” (Quashie v Yorkshire Ambulance Trust)
“Equal opportunities training that was delivered two years before the harassment occurred but had not been followed up in any way was CLEARLY STALE and NOT GOOD ENOUGH” (Allay(UK) Ltd v Gehlen).
What should you do to follow best practice in preventing workplace harassment?
The judges in these cases and the authorities in the other sources referenced above define the following as good practice and necessary if employers wish to mount a successful defence as required by the law that they have taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent harassment:
- Have a detailed, explicit, and meaningful zero tolerance policy on harassment, ensuring it addresses harassment by employees andthird parties
- Include how workplace social media e.g. Whats App/Instagram will be policed and addressed
- Review and if necessary update the policy annually
- Promote the policy, visually, digitally, in annual reports, handbooks, posters, websites, social media, recruitment material
- Reference the policy and your zero-tolerance approach in induction processes and exit interviews
- Put in place detailed, thorough and mandatory for all, training
- Evaluate and report on / publish the impact and effectiveness of policies and training (regular staff surveys and/or staff forums can help)
- Review and update training material as necessary
- Establish easily accessible, transparent reporting and whistleblowing channels – providing for anonymity where required
- Encourage and promote bystander reporting and intervention in the policy, training, and promotional material (a key point and significant failing by the employer in Allay UK v Gehlen)
- Collect data, and report data – on training, on evaluation results, on cases (frequency, nature and outcome)– give the subject airtime on Board agendas and in senior leadership meetings
- Appoint a Board or SLT level champion – provide them with training, capacity and authority and visibility/accessibility. Require all Board members and SLT to be role models.
- Refrain from using Non-Disclosure or Compromise Agreements for victims or perpetrators of sexual harassment that have the effect of masking or hiding the existence of, impact of, and outcome of dealing with sexual harassment
Clearly not all businesses will feel that they have the capacity, structure, or resources to put all of these in place, but these should be the yardstick by which you measure yourself and the baseline that you aspire to emulate as closely as possible and as best you can.
How can HR Now help? – we can assist with drafting and reviewing policies and training material, deliver and evaluate training, support, coach and mentor Champions, help with casework -investigations, reports and hearings. Contact us now for a no obligation discussion of how we can help: https://www.hrnow.je/contact/