Weekly dilemma: Sexual harassment

Several female employees have made complaints about a male manager. Examples include him leering at their breasts, reciting personal sexual exploits and bullying. We have bullying, harassment and discrimination policies in place, but the employees concerned do not want the matter to be taken any further. How should I deal with this?

As an employer, you have a duty to provide a safe and healthy working environment, which includes protection against bullying, harassment and discrimination.

The alleged victims are likely to be under-performing as a result of stress and loss of self-esteem. If the issue is not addressed, you may lose the employees concerned, and may find yourself facing claims on the grounds of sex discrimination or personal injury.

I suggest in the first instance this situation is dealt with informally. People are often unaware that their behaviour is unwelcome. If it is pointed out to the manager that his behaviour is unacceptable, he may stop. Suggest that the female employees ask the manager to stop and make it clear that his behaviour is unacceptable. If they feel unable to do this, HR could assist.

If the above is successful, then take no further action (other than some diversity training for the manager concerned), but do keep the situation under review.

If an employee feels unable to make such an approach, the employee should be encouraged to make a formal complaint.
Note that if an employee requests that her identity is kept confidential, you should respect this request and prepare anonymous statements. However, the employee should be forewarned that anonymity cannot be guaranteed.

If an employee still refuses to make a formal complaint, you are under a duty to take action against the alleged harasser, to protect your workforce. Action should include a thorough investigation and, if necessary, appropriate disciplinary action against the manager.

Sarah Ward, solicitor, Magrath & Co


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