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imagesWhile employers try to create an atmosphere of respect and dignity at work unfortunately bullying and harassment can still occur, with one of the most common forms being sexual harassment. While the temptation can be to view it as office banter it is very dangerous for any company to ignore issues of sexual harassment.

Your employees have a right not to be harassed at work. Sexual harassment is also a specific offence under the Equality Act 2010 and, as such, it is your obligation to protect your employees from this. If you do not do so then not only do you risk having a poor working environment and losing valuable staff you can face the very real risk of a Tribunal claim holding the company vicariously liable for the actions of your employees.

Harassment is not always easy to identify as it is how the act was perceived rather than how it was meant that is relevant. As such, what one person finds acceptable another might not and it can be considered harassment even if they do not say anything at the time.

Harassment occurs when one person enters into a course of conduct that is unwanted and has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive to that individual.

It is a difficult balance to strike in the workplace. You need to have strong anti-bullying and harassment policies and you need to regularly train your staff in them. You also need to train your managers in how to tackle these issues. Your employees need to be confident that you do not support harassment and that anyone who raises an issue will be listened to and treated sympathetically.

Should you receive any complaints of sexual harassment then you need to address them under your grievance procedure or any specific anti-bullying or Dignity at Work procedure that you have. Approach the matter with a wholly open mind, bearing in mind that this could be a matter of a misunderstanding, as well as not assuming that either side is right or wrong. Wherever appropriate, try to resolve the matter with the individuals concerned.

If you find that the allegation is genuine and the behaviour of the employee accused of harassment fell below the acceptable standard then that is something that needs to be dealt with through your disciplinary procedure.

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