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2nd November 2017

Sharing expertise on BBC Breakfast – the impact of sexual harassment at work

This morning, Impact’s Chief Executive, Shelly Rubinstein, took to the BBC Breakfast sofa to join the debate about sexual harassment, a subject which has received recent media attention following public claims against high profile individuals.

As an Occupational Psychologist, Shelly gave her unique insight into the impact that sexual harassment has, both on victims and organisations. Shelly highlighted both the physical and psychological impact that sexual harassment has on individuals, resulting in anxiety, depression, time off from work and losing their job, to name a few. Those who are brave enough to speak out can also find themselves further victimised for reporting or bringing a claim of sexual harassment, which can deter others from reporting future incidents.

As well as the personal impact on individuals, Shelly outlined the impact that sexual harassment has on organisations. Not only reputational damage occurs as a consequence (as can be seen is recent media reports) but also loss of talented employees, given that victims of sexual harassment are more likely than their harassers to leave the organisation (through resignation or relocation). Other negative consequences include productivity reduction, absenteeism costs, medical and counselling costs, not to mention legal costs incurred when claims of sexual harassment are brought against organisations.

Agreeing with comments that organisations must take a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, Shelly stated that cultural change is needed and that organisations must raise awareness about what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. Whilst the intention of the perpetrator of harassment may be ‘humour’ it is the way such ‘jokes’ are perceived by victims of sexual harassment which is important and often how cases are judged.

The definition of harassment is “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”.

ACAS guidance states that organisations are liable for such behaviour, “the Equality Act makes you potentially liable for harassment of your employees by people who are not employees of your company, such as customers or clients. You may be liable when you are aware that harassment has taken place, and have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it from happening again”. Therefore, employers have a responsibility to prevent and deal with inappropriate behaviour.

Impact recommend that organisations develop clear policies for preventing and tackling any form of harassment, discrimination or victimisation. Cultural change is of great importance where attitudes and behaviours have been tolerated or accepted as being ‘the way it is here’ resulting in acts of harassment going unreported or swept under the carpet for many years. Organisations should create a culture in which any unwanted conduct that violates an individual’s dignity is not tolerated and that victims feel supported to come forward and report inappropriate behaviour.

Everyone should be able to work in a place where all individuals are treated with respect.

We would be delighted to work with you on developing your policies, creating a respectful, supportive culture and training your leaders to manage inappropriate behaviours that are challenging.

Talk to us to find out how we can help you.