Sexual harassment in the workplace cases up 50% since return to work

Moira Grassick - Chief Operating Officer

March 09 2022

First published: March 9th, 2022

Since January 24th, employees across Ireland have been returning to the workplace. Some may have not seen their colleagues for nearly two years, while others may have only communicated via email and video calls.

For most of us, the move to work from home was a big adjustment. Suits and ties were swapped for hoodies and comfy clothes as we got used to working in our living rooms and kitchen tables.

Lines between what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace quickly became blurred. And now, as employees are returning to work in Ireland, it might be time to make it clear how staff should behave at work.

Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace

At Peninsula, we’ve seen a 50% increase in the number of calls from employers asking how to handle claims of sexual harassment in the workplace and outside of it. Discrimination queries based on gender and race are also up by 37% and 34% respectively.

We can’t help but think that this is directly related to being back in the workplace ─ do people need to relearn appropriate workplace behaviour?

Yes, working from home is a lot more casual. We’re seeing directly into people’s homes every day so it can be easy for attitudes to be less formal. And moving back into the workplace has been an adjustment for us all ─ whether that’s getting used to commuting again, wearing work clothes again, or adjusting to the office environment with its expected levels of formality and professionalism.

Even meeting up with colleagues for a drink after work on a Friday seems novel. We’ve all missed those interactions and events that previously seemed second nature. So, it can be easy to forget that you’re back in a working environment.

It may seem like an inappropriate joke or comment between two colleagues at the nearby pub is nothing to do with you as an employer. But those after work drinks are an extension of the workplace and you do need to pay attention to what happens at them. What one person might find funny could cause real offence to another.

So, what can employers do?

Everyone deserves to feel respected within the workplace, including at out of hours work events. That why it’s important that employers ensure their employees have been adequately briefed around dignity and respect in the workplace and know what behaviours are and are not acceptable.

An employee may come to you to try and resolve the issue informally, but if that’s not possible they may have to raise a formal complaint. A formal complaint requires submission in writing, which can be traumatic to those involved. So, it’s important to provide proper support to all parties.

In the event of a formal complaint being received from an employee regarding any allegation of sexual harassment or conduct around discrimination, this needs to be treated with immediate action in terms of a process and structure to investigate the complaint fully and correctly.

As we transition back to some level of normality, it may be time to take a look at your policies, such as your Sexual Harassment Policy in the workplace. This policy should explain to staff how to report sexual harassment.

Formal workplace training can be great too as it clearly shares your expectations and accurately explains what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour. Most workplaces have experienced some level of staff turnover during the pandemic and it’s a good chance to check in with new employees, many of whom you might be meeting face to face for the first time. Find out how they’re doing, and make sure they’re settling in well and don’t have any concerns.

A lot of people may be experiencing a formal workplace environment for the first time, especially younger workers in first jobs who were hired during the pandemic. It can be an adjustment, so take time to guide them through, ensure they’ve had all appropriate training, and address any issues as that arise.

New Codes of Practice launched to tackle workplace harassment and pay inequality

Two new statutory Codes of Practice have been launched by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to tackle workplace harassment and eliminate pay inequality.

The Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work and the Code of Practice on Equal Pay outline procedures to ensure that employees receive equal pay for like work in Ireland’s workplaces and aren’t subjected to harassment or sexual harassment.

The new Codes are also legally admissible in evidence before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Labour Court.

Need our help handling sexual harassment in the workplace?

For any questions you have on sexual harassment in the workplace, our HR consultants are on hand to help. Call today on 0818 923 923.

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