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How to Tackle Harassment and Sexual Harassment at Work

on Friday, 28 February 2020.

All schools have a duty of care to protect their workers' health and safety. Schools will be legally liable for harassment in the workplace if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it.

In early 2018, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a report, Turning the tables, in light of the #MeToo movement, to tackle workplace harassment. It found that the barriers to report sexual harassment included:

  • a view that the employer would not take the issue seriously
  • a belief that alleged harassers, particularly senior staff, would be protected
  • fear of victimisation
  • a lack of appropriate reporting procedures

A new report from the EHRC, Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work, provides updated guidance. We have set out below some of the key best practice points that schools should implement to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Preventing Harassment

  • Have Effective Policies, Procedures and Training in Place
    Schools should have effective and well communicated policies, practices and training that aim to prevent harassment.

    The policies should be monitored and their effectiveness reviewed regularly. Anti-harassment policies, sometimes called Dignity at Work policies and other measures should be developed in consultation with employee representatives to ensure that employees' views are taken into account. A good policy should include an effective procedure for receiving and responding to complaints.

    Schools should also ensure that there are staff members who are trained in providing support to individuals who have experienced harassment in work. You should keep records of who has received training and ensure that it is refreshed at regular intervals.
  • Make Sure Staff Know About Your Policies
    Schools should ensure that all employees are aware of their anti-harassment or Dignity at Work policies. You should consider publishing policies on an easily accessible part of your website. Policies should always be verbally communicated to employees during the induction process.
  • Ensure You Are Able to Detect Harassment
    It is vital that schools are aware of any warning signs that harassment is taking place, beyond informal and formal complaints. For example, sickness absence, a change in behaviour, comments made in exit interviews or avoidance of a certain colleague, should be investigated.

    You should provide employees with the opportunity to raise issues through:
    - informal one-to-ones
    - sickness absence or return-to-work meetings
    - exit interviews
    - a post-employment survey
    - mentoring programmes and staff networks

GDPR survey Jan20 v2

Responding to Harassment

  • Don't Set a Time Limit
    Schools should not set a time limit within which complaints must be made. An employee may not be able to raise a complaint within any such time limit due to, for example, illness or fear of victimisation. You should not make assumptions that because an alleged event took place a long time ago, you will be unable to find any evidence.

  • Keep the Complainant Updated
    The EHRC states that, where a complaint is upheld, the complainant should be told what action has been taken by the employer to address it and to prevent a similar event happening again.

    If the complainant is not told what action has been taken, this may leave them feeling as if their complaint has not been taken seriously or addressed appropriately.

  • Be Transparent
    While schools may have concerns around reporting outcomes in light of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), they should not assume that disclosure of the harasser's personal data will amount to a breach of the GDPR.

    Very often, in the EHRC's view, this will not represent a breach, if the school has been clear at the outset that outcomes may be disclosed, considers what grounds it has for disclosure and acts proportionately in disclosing personal data.

    Schools should carefully review their anti-harassment, Dignity at Work and data protection policies and the privacy notices provided to employees setting out how their personal data is processed. Whilst caution will always be required, transparency through signposting in policies is a good starting point to reduce the risk of a breach of someone's personal data rights.  

For legal advice from specialist solicitors, please contact Naseem Nabi in our Academies team, on 0117 314 5630 or complete the below form.

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