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Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work – What to do

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Amongst all of the commentary around the new sexual harassment bill being set to become law in the next 12 months, the comment that stood out for us was from Wera Hobhouse – the liberal democrat MP who first introduced the bill – who said:

“What one also finds again and again is that the employer does not really know what to do.”

Experts have been urging organisations to take preventative action for months and yet we know from research that 3 in 5 women say they have experienced harassment at work.

So Hobhouse’s comments ring particularly true… organisations often know they should do something, but are not sure where to start. While there is general guidance out there, it is just that – general. Yes, we should take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment – but what does this actually mean?

Yes, we should have policies in place – but is this enough? How do you ensure people understand what written policies mean in terms of day to day interactions and behaviour?

Yes, we should put training in place – but what should this look like? What format should it take?

It is far better to seek out advice and support and put steps in place that really make a difference, rather than to hang on for the bill and any elusive additional clarity.


Here are some examples of specific action:

1. Bringing policies to life

We have recently worked with one international business to develop a “playbook” to complement their policies on preventing and managing inappropriate behaviour and harassment. It was an insightful step on their part – recognising that a policy only goes so far in outlining what is expected.

The playbook “plays out” the different steps, meeting scenarios, and conversations that someone may be involved in if they feel they would like to raise a concern or complaint, or if they are the manager handling a the concern. It covers guidance around questions such as:

· Who do I tell?

· What if the person wants to remain anonymous?

· How do I frame and run the meetings with each person involved; the person with the concern, witnesses, the subject of the complaint?

· What should I say/not say?

· What if I don’t know what to do next?


It is the real practical guidance that people need to help them navigate a sensitive situation with empathy and balance. The roll out of this playbook is being supported by a series of interactive workshops so that all managers and staff can feel confident about their role in managing situations if they arise, but also the part they can all play in preventing them happening in the first place.


2. Helping people know what is appropriate/inappropriate in the workplace

Training is vital but it should cover much more than the legal framework. We run many workshops and programmes that create a safe space for people to ask the questions that they are worried about getting wrong.

The common points that come up in our workshops are:

· When is a joke ok or not ok?

· What is classed as banter that is acceptable/not acceptable?

· Is it ever ok to give someone a hug a work?

· Am I not allowed to compliment anyone on their appearance any more?

· If we believe in freedom of speech, why can’t I say what I think about sex/gender based viewpoints?

· Surely comments are ok if they are in the pub after work with colleagues?


These are the day to day questions people want guidance on. And having answers will go a long way to raising awareness and increasing understanding around the part we can all play in creating a respectful workplace free of sexual harassment. This sort of training should never be a one off – it should be revisited regularly and the outcomes built into key touchpoints in the organisation.

Talk to us about how we can help you put meaningful actions into place that will make a concrete difference – call us on 01903 732 782, email us at , contact us, or take a look at how we have helped other organisations tackle inappropriate behaviour at work.

If you do end up with a complaint against an employee, our risk to reward coaching may be particularly helpful.