Laws against workplace harassment and the consequences of inaction

At Culture Shift, we believe that every person deserves to work in an environment that’s safe and fair. To help your organisation ensure this, we’ve created a comprehensive platform that increases the chances of reporting when unacceptable behaviour threatens your employee wellbeing.

Our platform is there for when things don't go to plan, but there's still an obligation for employers to prevent harassment from happening in the first place. This is governed by laws and policies, which we will discuss in this blog. 

What are the laws against harassment in the workplace?

According to the Equality Act 2010, sexual harassment is defined as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, degrading or offensive environment. Although the Equality Act specifies the laws around sexual harassment, it encompasses all forms of harassment in the workplace. 

The Equality Act holds employers liable in harassment cases, placing more importance on the prevention of inappropriate behaviour. With the rise in social activism we have seen in recent years, there has been a growing understanding of what constitutes harassment. This is a positive step forward for organisations being able to identify problematic behaviour, and again puts increasing pressure on organisations taking action.

The pandemic has only propelled conversations forward on healthy corporate cultures, and equity in the workplace. There has also been a continuity of harassment despite more people working remotely, and businesses have a legal responsibility to protect employees. 

What are the consequences of not taking action against harassment?

Under the Equality Act, employers are required to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment of workers caused by their colleagues and provide appropriate steps if an incident occurs. If an employer doesn’t, they are legally responsible for the harassment. This can result in huge financial payouts, costly legal tribunals, and damaging reputational costs. Although we can't say exactly what this might cost your organisation, our free to use financial risk calculator gives a good indication of how much your organisation could be liable for.

The good news is the European Human Rights Committee (EHRC) has provided a seven-step approach to combatting harassment in the workplace.

EHRC’s seven-step approach

Step 1 - develop an effective anti-harassment policy

An effective anti-harassment policy should specify who is protected, state that harassment won’t be tolerated and that it’s illegal. It should also tell the reader that harassment may lead to disciplinary action, such as dismissal. 

The policy should include any aggravating factors, such as abuse of power over a junior team member.  Sexual harassment should also be defined with clear examples and an effective procedure outlining how complaints of harassment will be received and responded to. 

Step 2 - engage your staff

Through conducting regular 1-1s, surveys and exit interviews, you’ll gain valuable insight into any potential issues and whether your procedures are working. During these meetings, you should make sure your employees are aware of how they can report harassment, what the company’s harassment policies are and what the consequences will be if policies are breached.

Step 3 - assess and take steps to reduce risks in your workplace

Consider the factors that may increase the likelihood of harassment occurring, then take the necessary steps to minimise them. Ask yourself where the power imbalances are, if there are repetitive issues within certain teams, if staff appear isolated or anything that doesn't seem right.

Step 4 - reporting

Consider using a reporting system that enables employees to raise issues anonymously or in their name. Alongside this, employees should be told about what is acceptable behaviour, how to identify harassment and what to do if they experience or witness unacceptable behaviour. 

Step 5 - training

During training, workers should learn what harassment in the workplace looks like, what to do if they experience it themselves and how to handle any complaints of harassment. 

Step 6  - what to do when a harassment complaint is made

When a complaint has been made, it’s vital employers act immediately to resolve the complaint while taking into account how the victim wants the issue to be resolved. 

Employers must respect the confidentiality of all parties and protect the complainant from ongoing harassment or being victimised during an investigation into a complaint. 

If the complaint may be a criminal offence, the employee should be asked whether they’d like to report the matter to the police. If they do, the employer must support the employee throughout the process. 

Step 7 - dealing with third parties

Harassment can occur from a third party, such as a client, patient or supplier. If this happens, it should be treated just as seriously as if it were an employee. It’s important for employers to take steps to prevent this type of harassment, which can be done by assessing high-risk workplaces where employees may be left alone with clients or suppliers.

How Culture Shift can help

Here at Culture Shift, we’re proud to help businesses across industries make their workplaces safer and fairer. As part of our services, we can offer our expertise with some of the steps above.

Our team is well versed in developing anti-harassment policies (step one) and conducting risk assessments (step three). Not only that but our reporting system delivers support, case management and analytics, all in one platform. 

The Culture Shift platform provides a way for businesses to know when unacceptable behaviour has taken place in their organisation by giving people a simple and secure way to speak out confidentially, with the option for anonymity.

To see how the platform works and if your business would benefit, book a demo today.

Experience the Culture Shift platform

From increasing the chances of incidents being reported to gaining actionable insights, discover all the benefits by booking a demo. Simply click the button below.

Contact Us

Keep in touch

Sign up to our newsletter to receive monthly insights and resources.