“The Kiss”– Dealing with claims of sexual harassment at work

There has been much press attention since ‘The Kiss’ incident (not to be confused with the work of art) following Spain’s women’s football team winning the football World Cup. This finally concluded this month with the resignation of Luis Rubiales as President of Spanish FA over this incident.

Whilst this has been a case very much in the public eye due to the celebrity status of those involved, employers should be mindful that these situations can also play out in the workplace and indeed this week, it has been in the news that according to a recent study, female surgeons say they are often harassed and harassed by male colleagues.

So, how as employers do you manage and deal with this?

First, let’s look at the main question:

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that either (whether it was intended or not,) violates the person’s dignity, and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.

If an employee comes to you and verbally complains of sexual harassment or behaviours falling into this category, this should put you on notice that the issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

What can you do as an employer?

When we see cases like this in the press, it is a good prompt for you to go back and review your own policies and processes. It can also be used as a useful catalyst to update and re-run training for the workforce whilst the issue is a topical one.

As an employer you should:

  • Treat any allegation of sexual harassment very seriously;
  • This may be a verbal complaint in the initial instance but you can ask for confirmation of it in writing, so it is clear the nature of the actual allegation/ conduct complained of;
  • Make sure you handle the complaint fairly and sensitively and follow the right procedures (usually the grievance policy). This will involve an investigation at the start to establish the facts and then decide on what action (if any) needs to be taken from there. This could range from
    • No action if the complaint is not upheld;
    • Disciplinary action if it is;
    • Mediation between parties;
    • Training for staff on harassment
  • Refrain from assuming the accusation is accurate or false;
  • Explain the complaint process to all parties involved;
  • Handle the complaint as quickly but thoroughly as possible.

It’s crucial that the complaint be handled with the utmost confidentiality. People should only have access to important information when it is absolutely necessary.

How can we help?

As we have mentioned above, this is a good time to refresh yourselves on these policies and to make sure those who implement them are familiar with the process.

We can also assist by:

  • Reviewing the policy to make sure it is up to date and actually works in practice.
  • Offer training on how to deal with grievances and particularly those relating to harassment.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Employment Team below.

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