How to effectively handle workplace harassment

Picture Credit: Seagulls hovering hopefully as the Norwegian fishermen in Scotland gut fish ready for the market, 1941-43 by Norwegian Official

Here at Cluer HR, we strive to empower employers with the skills to effectively handle any form of harassment in the workplace.

Whether an employee is targeted because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation, it is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

From violating a staff member’s dignity, to creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, harassment must not be tolerated and should always be reported to an employer, who can then seek legal advice and guidance on how to resolve the situation.

If employers make their staff aware of what constitutes acceptable behaviour from the very start of their employment, they will be unified in working together to eliminate harassment of any kind before it becomes an issue.

Unfortunately, this can’t be said for every business and cases of harassment in the workplace still occur on a regular basis.

Below, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on what to do once an employee alleges they have been harassed in the workplace:

Listen and stay objective

No matter what the circumstances are, always stay open-minded and never pre-judge. An employee is confiding in you in good faith that their complaint will be handled in a professional manner. Once you are made aware of what the situation is, you can then take action.

Protect the employee

Depending on the seriousness of the allegation, consider if the employee affected needs counselling. They may even need to be protected, so it is fundamental employers don’t take inadvertent action that could be detrimental to the complainant, as this could be viewed as victimisation.

Managing the complaint

In most circumstances, a complaint, if minor, can be dealt with efficiently and in a timely manner, but if the employee’s harassment claim is serious, employers may need to seek advice from HR professionals who are trained in handling such issues.

Investigating the claim

Always ensure policy guidelines are carefully followed throughout the investigation stage. While there is no legal requirement for businesses and organisations in the UK to have a policy on harassment, discrimination and bullying, it is a good way of demonstrating a company’s commitment towards raising awareness in this area and preventing discrimination.

When talking to the complainant and the accused, assure them a fair and just investigation will take place. Listen to each party’s timeline of events and interview all relevant witnesses, while taking note of the facts.

Reaching closure

Hopefully, by this point an employer will have enough evidence from the investigation to attempt to reach a decision on whether the accused should be disciplined and, if so, which discipline is the most appropriate considering the circumstances.

In the worst-case scenario, the issue could be escalated to an employment tribunal.

Learning from experience

After the issue has been resolved, it is important to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Going back to the point made at the beginning of the blog, if staff are briefed regularly about what behaviour constitutes harassment from the offset, it can create a positive workplace culture, while demonstrating that the employer took all reasonable preventative steps.

Employers can also ask staff to re-read the company’s anti-harassment policy annually and confirm in writing.

Overall, an employer should strive towards creating an environment of respect and open communication. If staff members respect each other, cases of harassment will naturally occur less.