Decisive action against sexual harassment

Large organisations are hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons

Decisive action against sexual harassment

Large organisations are hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. An independent report found that London Fire Brigade was rife with misogyny, racism and bullying, while the sexual harassment claims against serving police officers in the Met are well reported.

The latest organisation to hit the headlines is McDonald’s, who four years ago had 1,000 sexual harassment claims made against them. They faced even more claims last year and have now signed a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

McDonald’s is a company which employs over 110,000 people in the UK. Proudly claiming its positive attitudes to its workforce, 45 per cent of McDonald’s employees in the UK are female.

Well, let me tell them: there is nothing positive about sexual harassment. While men also experience harassment, in the majority of instances the objects of the harassment are female. Clearly, it’s not acceptable.

Now all large organisations these days have HR teams in place and can afford to provide policies, monitoring and training to all staff. Where were they? Either they are incompetent or the senior managers suddenly turned deaf.

Government action

Following an inquiry that was prompted by the Me Too movement, the Women and Equalities Select Committee made many recommendations. The government consulted on four of them:

  • The introduction of a mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation;
  • How to strengthen and clarify the law in relation to third party harassment;
  • Whether protection was needed for interns and volunteers; and
  • Whether the time limit for bringing discrimination claims should be extended beyond three months.

Finally, in July last year, the government committed to making some changes which hopefully will become law in 2023.

It is vital to remember that, no matter what the size of business, protection from sexual harassment is already covered by the Equality Act. This includes harassment from customers and suppliers as well as from managers and colleagues.

How to protect your business and your team

So, how to protect your business from the awful headlines and ensure all your team, male and female, are safe?

The first thing is to have a robust policy that makes it absolutely clear there is zero tolerance. The policy on its own is not enough. Training managers on how to deal with a complaint is equally important, as is making sure everyone knows that reports through the grievance procedure will be listened to and dealt with appropriately.

Finally, when the assault is verbal do not make the mistake of excusing behaviour as a bit of banter and the complainant oversensitive. An employment tribunal will not accept that.

Sue Tumelty
Sue Tumelty