New Legislation announced this week means that it will soon be a mandatory duty for all employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. This means every business needs to consider the procedures they already have in place.

For some time now, this issue is one that many employers think only happens in high-profile organisations, or with high-profile people. Many small and medium-sized business fail to realise the gravity of not addressing this issue – the impact on individual productivity and to the company as a whole.

Negative impact every day.

The potentially negative impact of sexual harassment is profound and varied. Recent very public cases have demonstrated that we are dealing with potential criminal activity as well as employment relations matters. There is a wide spectrum of potential harassment – from rape and sexual assault, through to innuendo, inappropriate touching and poorly made jokes – and everything in between.

To the victims of sexual harassment there are no upsides.

When we know and don’t know.

There is much time, energy, cost and angst caused by identifying, investigating and managing the cases that we are aware of. The negative impact on the employee can result in absence, loss of productivity, strained relationships, awkwardness, tension and often with the employee leaving the workplace.

There may also be incidents employers do NOT know about because they have not been brought to attention; as well as insidious behaviours that are tolerated and accepted. Often people choose to leave rather than confronting the issue due to the fear of retribution and possible damage to career prospects. Therefore people often “put up and shut up” rather than disclosing.

This raises questions about accountability, good governance, standards and behaviour of leaders, role models and decision makers.

What can we do?

What can we do to influence the community and workplaces that we connect with? We need to better accountability and transparency in dealing with issues when they arise. This starts with educating to raise awareness of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. We have policies and procedures, we have legislative deterrents (an additional one in November 2023) and we continue to have high profile cases. Jimmy Saville died in 2011 and a huge amount of media attention, discussion, and talk of improved understanding followed – but has anything really changed?! It is both a societal and a workplace problem that continues to impact people and productivity whether it is hidden or in plain sight.
This new Legislation* states that legally it’s now the responsibility of every business and every employer to take responsibility to prevent all such behaviours in the workplace, or the consequences can be grave. If you feel your business needs some assistance in this matter, please let us know. Yes, it might reduce your risk should anything happen in the future – but it might also help improve your productivity as well.

If you require any help or assistance around how your business manages this issue, contact us here, or reach out to Margery, Neil or Laura on LinkedIn.

* Officially it is called the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023, and it has received Royal Assent so will come into force in October 2024. []