All employers have a duty of care to protect staff from unlawful discrimination in whatever form it may take.
To help create a culture of respect and dignity, and make it clear that unacceptable behaviours will not be tolerated, there are some practical steps we recommend every employer should follow which will help to minimise the chance of workplace harassment:
Ensure the leadership of the organisation visibly sets out and openly communicates a zero-tolerance approach to harassment in the workplace. This should be reflected in formal statements released by your executive leadership team and captured on your organisation’s intranet and other communications channels (noticeboards, bulletins, employee handbook, etc).
All line managers have an additional responsibility to deal with complaints of harassment quickly, effectively and without being judgemental; removing any conscious or unconscious bias to the largest extent possible.
Ensure all relevant policies are up to date, are made available to all employees, and clearly outline the support for individuals within the workplace. This should include policies for bullying and harassment, grievance procedures and the organisation’s whistleblowing policy.
Core training should be provided for all staff and managers, with modules on equality and diversity, anti-discrimination legislation (Equality Act 2010) and guidance on the organisation’s policies outlined above, to ensure all staff understand their rights as well as their responsibilities under relevant policies and legislation.
We also encourage you to make sure the topic of harassment is integrated in other training covering managing performance, communication, conflict resolution and unconscious bias.
4. Data and insights
Employers should always seek to gather employees’ insights to help inform policies and practices. We recommend carrying out anonymous staff surveys at least on an annual basis and including specific questions on experiences of workplace harassment to help you identify business areas or teams that might be at risk.
Exit interviews offer another vital opportunity to secure relevant insights into why an individual has decided to leave the organisation, which at times might include experiences of harassment.
Probably the most important element to effectively address workplace harassment is to create an inclusive and supportive culture where individuals feel that inappropriate behaviours are never tolerated, and that complaints or allegations are always taken seriously and properly followed up.
We encourage you to identify a member of your HR team, as well as a senior member of your management team, who can be appointed as key contact points for employees wishing to raise a workplace harassment issue.
Your polices should clearly state the timescales and the exact process that will be followed to seek a resolution, informally and formally. You should also make sure you always provide appropriate support such as mediation, counselling and relevant training. There should be additional support mechanisms in place for both the recipient(s) and perpetrator(s) of harassment during the process of an informal or formal investigation.
You may also wish to consider establishing a group of trained staff as ‘Champions’ who members of staff can approach with any concerns.
Your employees should feel empowered and supported to discuss issues of workplace harassment and should always be able to trust that the organisation will address any concern with transparency, objectivity and consistency.
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). Provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law: 0300 123 1100
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC): Provides an overview of sexual harassment in the workplace and further signposting to relevant support.
Equality Advisory and Support Service: Advises and assists individuals on issues relating to equality and human rights, across England, Scotland and Wales. Helpline: 0808 800 0082
LawCare (charity, independent from professional bodies): Supports and promotes good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community throughout the UK. Free, independent and confidential Helpline: 0800 279 6888
Solicitors Regulation Authority: Regulatory and professional ethics guidance on conduct issues: 0370 606 2577