Sexual harassment: how to make staff take complaints seriously

Gwyneth Paltrow is one of more than 30 women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of unwelcome advances
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The Harvey Weinstein scandal has once again placed the spotlight on sexual harassment reporting. Victims of sexual harassment are often reluctant to report incidents for fear of retaliation or being disbelieved. Qian Mou provides tips for organisations to encourage and support employees to report sexual harassment in the workplace.

1. Take complaints seriously

It unfortunately still needs to be said that employers should take sexual harassment complaints seriously.

Complaints regarding sexual harassment should be investigated promptly and in a professional manner.

Do not require a complainant to provide “proof” prior to conducting an investigation. The purpose of the investigation is to gather information and evidence.

Do not discount the complaint or refuse to investigate because the complaint seems unlikely.

Investigations should be conducted regardless of the identities of the complainant and the alleged perpetrator. In particular, complaints against managers and senior staff should be treated seriously.


2. Provide support to individuals

After a complaint has been made, consider how the individual can be supported while the investigation is conducted.

If the complaint is against another individual in the team, particularly if it is against the complainant’s line manager, consider temporarily changing working relationships for the duration of the investigation.

However, take care not to penalise the individual who has made the complaint if work or reporting lines are reallocated.

The complainant should be kept informed of the progress of the investigation and its ultimate outcome.


3. Train managers and HR staff

The investigation process for sexual harassment complaints will be emotional and personal for the parties involved.

Line managers and HR staff should receive training to deal with the issues in an impartial and fair way.


4. Take proactive measures

Employees should also receive training on bullying and harassment in the workplace so that they are aware that such behaviour is not acceptable.

This includes workplace banter that would cause offence to others.

Where colleagues or managers witness other individuals being subject to harassment, they should not wait for the victim to make a complaint.

Colleagues and managers should initiate complaints or investigations where the actions of an employee are serious and should be investigated.


5. Put a policy in place

All organisations should have an anti-bullying and harassment workplace policy setting out the type of behaviour that is prohibited, the consequences of such behaviour and the procedure for making a complaint and conducting an investigation.

However, unless the policy has the support of management and HR, and the organisation has a culture that supports victims of sexual harassment, putting in place a policy alone will not be an effective approach to combating sexual harassment in the workplace.

Qian Mou

About Qian Mou

Qian Mou is an employment law editor at XpertHR. She is qualified as a lawyer in England and Wales, and Ontario, Canada. Prior to joining XpertHR, Qian worked as a private practice lawyer specialising in employment law and as an HR consultant at a national bank in Toronto.
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