Preventing and responding to sexual harassment at work – advice for businesses

Harrassment / 21 November 2018
Preventing and responding to sexual harassment at work – advice for businesses

Harassment, sexual harassment and bullying are all workplace issues which give rise to risks that must be managed in respect of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, as well as obligations and potential claims under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and Human Rights Act 1993.

Since our article earlier this year on the topic, here, many more prominent businesses (including law firms!) have been in the media spotlight in relation to sexual harassment and their failures around workplace culture.  We are now seeing more complaints relating to harassment and bullying arising given the current climate and growing awareness around these issues, and employers are well advised to recognise their risks in this respect and have clear processes in place to handle them.  This includes creating a culture that identifies appropriate behaviour and values people being able to speak up easily, with processes that deliver speedy resolution by investigation and action on allegations.

WorkSafe has recently published a new sexual harassment toolkit for workplaces, which covers, from a health and safety risk management perspective:

  •        what sexual harassment is;
  •        how to work out whether sexual harassment is occurring;
  •        how to manage the risks from sexual harassment;
  •        how to deal with reports of sexual harassment; and
  •        who can help.

All complaints about sexual harassment, harassment and bullying should be taken seriously and addressed, swiftly.  While the toolkit provides some guidelines around this, employers need to ensure they have appropriate policy documentation in place which aligns with the specific legal definitions of each of these issues, and sets out the processes by which complaints can be raised, as specific for their business.

Given the multiple issues and often competing obligations to those involved in a complaint scenario (for example, where an employee complains against another employee, and the employer has to balance duties of fairness to each), seeking advice early in the piece is recommended so that a sound plan for action can be developed with appropriate support to implement this.

If you need advice on creating and/or implementing sexual harassment policies, or addressing complaints, please contact us.

Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.

November 2018

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