Over the last year there has been an enormous recalibration towards sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace. Boundaries have shifted and things that were once considered bad – sexual innuendo/banter- are now considered totally unacceptable. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, there is no longer the expectation that you have to keep quiet and put up with bullying and harassment in the workplace.
What one person might regard as harmless flirtation, another might consider to be sexual harassment. These different perspectives are causing problems for companies as they navigate how they must deal with these cases.
In days gone by, when a claim of harassment or bullying was raised in the workplace, it would have been handed to the HR department to minimise the fuss – have a word with the perpetrator, move the perpetrator/victim to a new team or, in a serious cases, pay off the alleged victim or pressurise them to keep quiet.
Nowadays there is real anxiety about information coming out and damaging the reputation of the company. There’s an awakening that issues of sexual harassment or bullying affect a range of things such as culture, engagement, productivity and the bottom line. A recent case in South Africa held that an employer was liable for the actions of its employee in a sexual harassment case because it did not intervene.
If any allegation of sexual harassment is made by one of your employees, you must take the matter seriously and investigate expeditiously and thoroughly. If you don’t already have one in place, develop a sexual harassment policy which sets out how the company will deal with matters of sexual harassment. Staff training is also recommended to ensure everyone is up-to-date on the legal landscape in this area.
No organisation wants an environment in which employees might be physically hurt, and it’s about time organisations start to look at psychological damage with the same urgency.