Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Rethink approach to sexual harassment warns Fawcett Society

Out-Law News | 12 Oct 2021 | 9:26 am |

Trish Embley tells HRNews about the role of training in addressing sexual harassment at work

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  • Transcript

    Employers are putting too much emphasis on women reporting sexual harassment and not enough on preventative measures. That is the warning from the Fawcett Society after publication of their latest report on sexual harassment in the workplace. The report combines three evidence sources: a literature review of what works to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace; a call for evidence from women who had experienced sexual harassment, with 290 responses; and a survey of 236 managers. Its key findings are:
    - At least 40% of women have experienced workplace harassment, and women who are marginalised for other reasons, such as race or disability, face an increased risk 
    - 45% of women in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment online 
    - Almost a quarter of women who had been sexually harassed said the harassment had increased or escalated since the start of the pandemic while they were working from home

    The report criticises the way many employers approach sexual harassment which is often designed to resolve incidents quickly and quietly and minimise any potential liability. That approach, they say, makes it worse for the women who report harassment and often face victimisation and retaliation as a result. 

    People Management reports on this and quotes Felicia Willow, interim chief executive of the Fawcett Society. She says sexual harassment at work was ‘endemic’ because employers were ill-equipped and ill-prepared to handle reports. She says that creates a culture where the focus is on managing liability rather than stopping perpetrators and supporting women. She said she welcomed government plans to introduce a duty on employers to effectively prevent sexual harassment.

    Those plans were announced in July when the government finally published its response to its Consultation on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Among a series of measures, the headline was a new positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. In other words, making employers liable for not taking action to prevent sexual harassment at work. When law, it means employers will be required to take reasonable, proportionate steps, taking into count their size and circumstances. Under current legislation, employers are already expected to take all reasonable steps to prevent workplace harassment, but the new duty beefs this up, requiring employers to be much more proactive. 

    The Fawcett Society’s report sets out a number of recommendations including, at page 115, anti-sexual harassment training for all employees, and ‘role specific’ training for managers and investigators. They say the training should be part of wider package of action on sexual harassment that seek to change the culture of the organisation. They recommend that before the training employees starts, employers should conduct what they term a ‘climate survey’ to identify sexual harassment “hotspots” and gauge employees’ attitudes towards harassment. They say the data gathered from the survey should be used to tailor the training to the needs of the workplace, addressing misconceptions and ideas that perpetuate norms that are tolerant of sexual harassment.

    That approach  - of tailoring the training to the needs of the organisation - is right, in our view, and that is what we saying back in July when it became clear that training was going to be a key plank of the new duty. Trish Embley, Head of Client Training, talked to this programme about the need for an ‘outcome focused’ approach to the training, which is precisely what the Fawcett Society’s report is now recommending. This is what Trish had to say about that:

    Trish Embley: “Really, looking at the proposals from the government, to me it is just building on what I would say is the existing direction of travel in terms of what employers are obliged to do with harassment in the workplace and particularly anti-harassment training. So we had not so long ago and EAT decision, Allay Limited v Gehlen, that basically said you can’t take a ‘tick box’ approach to preventing harassment in your workplace. I think they put it quite nicely in that judgement where they  said it is not good enough to get your employees together and say, ‘come on everyone, don’t harass each other, not back to work’. So when we look at this term ‘prevent’ it has got to be outcome-focused. So, I think many employers are looking at anti-harassment training and they might, for example, produce 15 minutes of e-learning for their employees. Now the question I would ask there is whether that is actually going to change culture and outcomes. I think it is a great starting point, I think you can get across some of the complex issues that have to be considered around where is the line drawn with banter, what is the relevance of intent, however, I think we are going to have to take that to the next stage and by that, I mean discussing things like harassment in team meetings or workshops or on-site gatherings and meetings because there are a lot of complex issues in harassment. There is that balance with not wanting to work in a sterile work environment and many of our clients, in their values, will talk about bringing your whole selves to work and how work should be a fun place, so it is really, I think, going that next stage with prevention in terms of a deeper dive into training around behaviours, what you can do, what the outcome of any action might be and particularly, I think, offering those who are victims of harassment a lot of comfort about why this will not be career limiting, this isn’t a negative thing for you to do, it’s something that the organisation want people to speak up on and they are encouraging people to speak up, and demonstrating that, how they are creating that culture.”

    Trish mentioned e-learning. We do have a pair of e-learning modules on the subject of sexual harassment, one for employees and one for managers which take roughly 40 minutes to complete and which include a number of exercises throughout, and questions to test understanding. As to cost, we don’t operate the typical subscription model that you see with the vast majority of e-learning courses on the market which base the cost on the number of users. Instead all the modules come with a licence for an unlimited number of users which means hundreds of people can all be trained for a one-off purchase cost, with the option to repeat the training as many times as you like without any further cost. The two harassment modules cost £3,750 each. Included for that cost is a degree of tailoring – adding your organisation’s logo throughout and including your organisation’s policies and procedures and any other documentation you'd like to add. 

    If you would like to have a closer look at any of the modules you can, we are offering a free demonstration so please do get in touch if this might be something you want to consider for your staff. Contact details are on the screen for you.

    - Link to Fawcett Society’s report: ‘Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’