|Dealing with Unwelcome Valentines in the Workplace|
By Jason Hemens
Tuesday, 14th February 2012
Romances in the workplace are not uncommon but difficulties may arise when the attraction between employees is not reciprocal; not only for the individuals concerned, but ultimately for the employer with potential liability for harassment that occurs in the workplace.
There are a number of considerations for employers when it comes to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
The first is to set a clear legal definition in company policy that identifies the behaviour constituting sexual harassment. A clear policy definition is crucial because a common response to an allegation of sexual harassment is that the alleged perpetrator does not believe they have acted inappropriately.
Another key element is a simple and effective complaints procedure. Victims of sexual harassment must have a clear and easily navigable process to follow in raising concerns. This should include alternative contacts, which are not limited to one gender, should an employee feel uncomfortable speaking with a particular designated complaints officer.
There is a minimum expectation, irrespective of the nature of the business, that there will be a policy in place which defines sexual harassment and sets out a complaints procedure, which is communicated to all employees and supported with regular training.
To this end, employers should remind employees in the lead up to social events of the policies that are in place and the procedures to follow in instances of suspected sexual harassment. The policy needs to be driven from the top with senior managers and executives leading by example.
An employer will be vicariously liable for the actions of an employee unless they can establish all reasonable steps were taken to prevent the employee from engaging in sexual harassment.
To ensure all reasonable steps have been taken, employers should, at a minimum:
1. Develop a policy clearly defining the behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment
2. Implement a complaints procedure that is simple, effective and does not intimidate
3. Ensure the policies and procedures are communicated to staff and supported with regular training
4. Enforce a strong culture of 'lead by example' when it comes to the management of complaints and the treatment of complainants
5. Remain alert to possible incidences of sexual harassment and act quickly, even if this occurs outside of work hours or away from the workplace