The Rise of Sexual Harassment Claims: How Employers Should Deal With Complaints

Following Hollywood Parliament is the latest cohort to report an increasing amount of people coming forward with allegations of historical sexual harassment. This could (and most likely will) encourage other victims in the workplace to speak to their employers about their own experiences within the workplace.

The question is: How should these allegations be handled by the employer?

Staff policies

The first step is for the employer to consider its anti-harassment and bullying policy. If a business does not have this in their staff policies (aside from the obvious point of ensuring you get one), it should follow its grievance procedure (taking into account the steps proposed by the ACAS Code as it may need to be treated as a disciplinary issue too). These guidelines can be found here:

An employer should take the allegation seriously and should investigate it/them thoroughly. Practically speaking, this will involve meeting with the alleged victim and perpetrator and any potential witnesses. This will assist the employer in concluding whether the alleged perpetrator needs to be invited to a disciplinary hearing where it can decide if a sanction is necessary.

The conclusion of this should be communicated to the complainant and the alleged perpetrator in writing.

If the grievance is upheld, along with a notification that the perpetrator is allowed to appeal, the letter should set out the disciplinary action taken against the perpetrator (if appropriate) and the steps it intends to take to protect the victim.  

Anything else to consider?

Employers should always be mindful of whether dismissing the perpetrator is a reasonable course of action to follow based on each case. In order to avoid a successful claim for unfair dismissal, a Tribunal will need to be of the opinion that the dismissal was “reasonable in the circumstances.” Therefore they should carefully consider whether dismissal would be appropriate in the absence of any corroborating evidence.

Another idea for employers is to consider a confidential and independent helpline or support services for their employees. What support should be offered to the employee?

Training for staff and managers alike

In order for employers to avoid the risk of vicarious liability if an employee brings a discrimination claim against both it and the alleged perpetrator, all staff from including managers and supervisors should be trained in equal opportunities and harassment issues.