Employers should disclose sexual harassment claims, says academic

Nicholas Hoult, Gemma Arterton, Sam Rockwell, Leslie Bibb and Natalie Dormer wear black at the BAFTAs
Thomas Alexander/BAFTA/REX/Shutterstock

Organisations should be required to publish how much they have paid to settle sexual harassment cases, according to an academic and former lawyer.

Matteo Winkler, professor of tax and law at business school HEC Paris, said forcing employers to declare how much they had paid to settle sexual harassment claims could encourage them to act on the issue.

“My proposal is to make companies declare how much they have paid to settle sexual harassment cases. One firm should start and then others should follow,” Winkler said at a roundtable discussion on the hidden costs of sexual harassment in London last week.

“Transparency has a downside [because] companies can lie. But it’s hard to lie on financial statements [and] it’s difficult to hide high numbers from shareholders,” he added.

Following allegations of widespread sexual harassment in Hollywood, actors and directors at last night’s BAFTAs wore black in support of the Time’s Up movement and the #MeToo campaign, which aim to stop abuse in the film industry.

Winkler warned that employers should not be complacent if they had not yet faced such claims, as workers might not have spoken out about incidents of abuse.

He explained that sexual harassment at work was an under-reported problem because it was surrounded by a “culture of silence”, and paying to bring a claim against an organisation created a disincentive for victims to seek redress.

While sexual harassment often had a financial cost to organisations, there was also a number of “hidden costs” associated with it, said Winkler, including increased absenteeism, poor morale, high staff turnover.

“Women who are are subject to this are less productive because they don’t like to be at work with a colleague that sends harassing messages to them,” he added.

Training could play a role in reducing sexual harassment, Winkler said. This should focus on victims’ experiences and on getting employees to understand the perspective of someone who had been harassed.

He suggested that current training methods should be rethought. “Training programmes that companies do on diversity are not very effective. They don’t change behaviour.”

Last week the Women and Equalities Committee launched an inquiry into what the Government and employers could do to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace and encourage victims to speak up about incidents.

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