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Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

As discussions around the impending Worker Protection Act (preventing sexual harassment) gain momentum, Wera Hobhouse’s (MP and architect of the new legislation) poignant observation strikes a chord: “What one also finds again and again is that the employer does not really know what to do.” Despite months of urging from experts to take proactive measures, statistics reveal a stark reality—three in five women report experiencing harassment at work.

Hobhouse’s words echo a common dilemma—organisations acknowledge the need for action but often lack clarity on where to begin. While there’s no shortage of general guidance, the practical implementation remains elusive. It’s not enough to merely have policies in place; understanding their implications in day-to-day interactions is crucial. The ultimate goal is not just to prevent but to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all employees.

Bringing Policies to Life

One international business we worked with took a proactive approach by developing a “playbook” to complement their existing policies on preventing and managing inappropriate behaviour. Created with Focal Point, this playbook serves as a practical guide to manage a complaint or concern around behaviour, including how to effectively report harassment to the immediate supervisor/HR or the appropriate manager. It outlines key steps and timeframes for reporting harassment and how to handle different meetings with all involved including the person raising the concern, the subject of the concern, and any witnesses. Additionally, it emphasises the importance of having clear procedures for handling sexual harassment complaints, ensuring that managers and employees understand their responsibility in reporting and addressing inappropriate behaviour. By providing clear guidance on sensitive matters, such as maintaining confidentiality and what can be shared and what can’t, organisations empower both employees and managers to navigate challenging situations with empathy and effectiveness.

Complemented by interactive workshops delivered by Focal Point, this initiative ensured that everyone is equipped to play their part in fostering a respectful workplace.

Clarifying Workplace Normswith Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

Effective training goes beyond legal compliance; it creates a safe space for dialogue and addresses common concerns. Incorporating sexual harassment training is crucial in clarifying workplace norms and preventing harassment. Focal Point runs many workshops and programmes, including sexual harassment training, which is essential for meeting legislation and legal implications. These programs emphasise the importance of positive messaging and the benefits of employee awareness at all levels.

Some common points that come up in these workshops include:

  •        When is a joke okay or not okay?
  •        What is classed as banter that is acceptable/not acceptable?
  •        Is it ever okay to give someone a hug at work?
  •        Am I not allowed to compliment anyone on their appearance anymore?
  •        If we believe in freedom of speech, why can’t I express my views and beliefs?
  •        Surely comments are okay if they are in the pub after work with colleagues?

These are the day-to-day questions firms and businesses want guidance on.

Workshops and programmes, especially those focusing on sexual harassment training, should address these everyday questions and bring clarity to the grey areas that people struggle with so that they will have more confidence to act. By fostering awareness and understanding, organisations empower individuals to contribute actively to a culture of respect. Continuous training and integration of outcomes into organisational processes are essential to sustaining these efforts.

Addressing the Urgency

The prevalence of shocking cases underscores the urgency of addressing inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. Despite high-profile scandals and public outcry, some individuals persist in engaging in unacceptable conduct. Weinstein in 2017, was followed by The President’s Club scandal, Ted Baker founder Ray Kelvin’s “forced hugging”, the expose of the toxic Lloyds of London culture and now we have the CBI six years later. Sadly, this is unlikely to be the last headline unless people are willing to take a long hard look at what is going on in their own organisations – and perhaps their own behaviour? The ongoing issue of sexual harassment occurring and workplace harassment in these high-profile cases highlights that this is a widespread issue affecting various workplaces. Bizarrely there are still many people who are seemingly unable to learn from these cases of unacceptable behaviour and sexual harassment and still believe it is okay for them to touch colleagues inappropriately, joke crudely or not take “no” for an answer. In our work in this area, we are frequently told “I thought it was fine, we’ve known each other years and can say what we like” or “I know people don’t mind because we always have a laugh together”. We should never assume how others feel or that they will just put up with it.

Addressing Personal Responsibility and Action

Every individual bears a dual responsibility: firstly, to critically evaluate their own behaviour to prevent harassment. It’s essential to understand that our actions play a pivotal role in building a safe culture that promotes engagement, increases employee retention, and protects against legal liabilities. Training and awareness about how to recognise and report harassment are crucial. Are we complacently assuming that silence implies consent, or that laughter validates our jokes? Secondly, when confronted with inappropriate behaviour, it’s crucial to act. Reporting sexual harassment is a critical step individuals can take when they witness or experience harassment. Having clear and easily accessible procedures for victims to report incidents is vital for a harassment-free workplace. While addressing it directly may be daunting, it’s essential to speak up or seek assistance from someone equipped to intervene. By holding ourselves accountable and taking proactive steps, we contribute to fostering a workplace where harassment has no place.

Focal Point is here to support you

The time for meaningful action is now. Organisations must prioritise the implementation of concrete measures to prevent sexual harassment and foster a culture of respect. Whether through policy development, training initiatives, or proactive intervention, every individual has a role to play. Let’s commit to creating workplaces where harassment of any sexual nature has no place, and every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender, feels safe, respected, and valued. Acknowledging the experiences of those who have been sexually harassed is crucial in our efforts to support victims and take decisive action against perpetrators. For guidance on implementing effective strategies or addressing specific concerns, contact us at Focal Point. Together, we can create positive change and build inclusive workplaces where everyone can thrive.

Call us on 01903 732 782 email us at or  contact us  to learn more about how we can support your organisation’s journey towards a harassment-free workplace.