Having a sexual harassment policy can help protect workers and non-workers from unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. If you don’t take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment at work, you could be liable for the misconduct of your staff.
This guide shows how to manage sexual harassment claims under Irish legislation. And shows how having a sexual harassment policy can help prevent incidents from happening in the workplace.
What is a sexual harassment policy?
A sexual harassment policy is there to define what workplace sexual harassment is and what you expect of your employees.
It helps employers investigate harassment complaints and follow legal procedures to manage the situation.
Harassment policies protect workers from discrimination against gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, status, or other protected characteristics.
Employers are legally required to investigate complaints of sexual harassment as soon as possible. Businesses should have zero-tolerance for all forms ofharassment against any workers.
All employees within your business should understand and adhere to the policy – and understand the consequences of breaking the rules.
What is considered sexual harassment in the workplace?
Ireland’s Employment Equality Acts 1998 - 2015, define sexual harassment in the workplace as ‘unwanted verbal, non verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature’ It creates an intimidating, degrading, and offensive environment for the victim.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a singular or a recurring set of incidents, like:
- Making sexual comment, gestures, or jokes.
- Sending emails with sexual content.
- Displaying sexual drawings or pictures.
- Insinuating or demanding sexual favours.
- Invading another person’s personal space.
- Pursuing or flirting persistently without the other person’s willing to participate.
The most serious form of sexual harassment is sexual assault, which is classed as a criminal offence. Employers should support victims who want to press charges for sexual assault claims.
What should be included in a sexual harassment policy?
A sexual harassment policy can help employers clarify their stance on harassment claims, and how to manage them should they arise. The policy includes elements like:
As examples of sexual harassment can range widely, it’s best practise to set a blanket ban in your policy. Workers should be in no doubt that sexual harassment is prohibited in your workplace.
Provide examples and illustrations of what is understood as sexual harassment in the workplace.
Clearly define of what conduct and behaviour will constitute sexual harassment. This is extremely important to include in your policy.
Duty to report
Have easy and confidential methods for reporting sexual harassment. Employees should know a timely and accurate report will help process the claim more effectively.
Too often incidents of sexual harassment occur when senior workers offend subordinates. But all employees should know that those who experience or witness sexual harassment will be protected against victimisation.
The entire procedure for processing sexual harassment complaints should be clearly defined. The investigation procedure should also be presented to workers, outlining in detail the entire process – from initial raised claims to sanctioning punishments.
Most victims of sexual harassment feel intimidated or too embarrassed to raise claims. The policy must clearly promise the greatest level of confidentiality.
However, you cannot promise confidentiality 100%, as some situations may require you to involve legal authorities if the issue requires criminal investigation.
Employees should also be provided with training, not only as a policy objective for new starters but also as part of a regular training program.
Dealing with sexual harassment claims
Employees must report all cases of sexual harassment, to HR or to management. In serious cases like sexual assault, inform the Gardaí immediately and seek HR advice for how to manage the investigation phase. Most victims will find it difficult to bring claims forward, so provide a fully supportive and confidential process for reporting harassment claims. Employers should explain the procedure for dealing sexual harassment claims through their policy, like:
- Inform both parties about the claim as early as possible.
- Share details on the investigation, including a timeframe. (If any meetings are held, both sides are legally allowed representatives.)
- Clarify that disciplinary actions (including summary dismissals) may be taken if the complaint is upheld.
- Have an impartial manager carry out the investigation. They should provide a written statement of their final decision.
- Document all details of the proceedings and keep confidentially throughout. This can stand as evidence that you took reasonable steps for managing the complaint.
- Provide further support measures for the victim. Also guarantee they will not meet any consequences for reporting their claim.
- Report the claim to the police if potential sexual assault or other criminal offences are found.
Peninsula Ireland can provide information and support on sexual harassment
All workers should comply with your zero-tolerance policy on all forms of harassment in the workplace. And should feel confident in raising sexual harassment complaints to management or HR.
Of course, every incident and claim will have individual circumstances. But assure victims that all complaints will be dealt with efficiently. This will help to eliminate the hostile environment sexual harassment creates.
Peninsula Ireland can offer expert support and advice on creating a company sexual harassment policy. We also provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) with information on behaviour policies and employee wellbeing management.
Peninsula Ireland clients get access to 24/7 HR consultation with our employment specialists. And if you are not yet a client, you can still enjoy free advice from one of our business experts. Simply call us on 0818 923 923.