Sexual harassment is an all too common occurrence in the workplace, which can lead to reputational and financial damage to a business and a poor workplace culture for employees.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a breed of harassment specifically focussing on unwelcome sexual conduct, behaviour advances where a reasonable person anticipates the other person will be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Sexual harassment, like bullying, can be direct or indirect. It can take the form of physical or verbal harassment, be repeated or occur in a single incident. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by males or females against someone of the same or opposite sex. Examples of sexual harassment can include: suggestive comments or jokes, staring, insults of a sexual nature, unwelcome touching or requests for dates/sex/sexual favours. Sexual harassment also includes behaviour that would otherwise violate criminal law such as physical assault, indecent exposure or obscene communication.

Sexual harassment is a topical issue nowadays and, for this reason, a policy and training is essential. In the event of a complaint being made, early intervention and strong leadership are crucial. Creating a zero tolerance policy needs to start from management and carry through the organisation. Claims must be dealt with in a manner that is consistent and confidential, ensuring the risk of gossip is kept to a minimum.

Sexual harassment claims are likely to be awkward and difficult to deal with due to the highly emotional and sometimes confrontational nature of the accusations. For this reason, sexual harassment claims are best dealt with by those with investigation experience who are able to act as unbiased decision maker.