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Sexual harassment claims have increased by over two thirds (69%) in the last year according to the CIPD. Such claims are seriously bad news for an employer – here’s why…

Easy to make – the effect of the #MeToo movement has increased women’s confidence in making such claims. Once the confidence barrier is overcome, making a claim is relatively easy. The claimant can remain in employment if they wish.

Hard to break – compared to a typical unfair dismissal claim, where the hearing may be a few hours, sexual harassment claims typically require several days in Tribunal.

Expensive too – apart from the costs of investigating allegations, preparing paperwork and instructing legal professionals. Awards themselves, arising from an adverse judgement, can be seriously expensive.

Damaging – it should go without saying that washing dirty linen in public is not an enlightening experience. But the damage to company reputation, emotional wellbeing of those involved, and to you as an employer is likely to be substantial.

How to stop harassment claims, or at least minimise the risk

Set an example – much employee behaviour reflects that at more senior levels – and behaviour at more senior levels can be used as an excuse for what might otherwise be inexcusable behaviour.

Keep in mind that harassment (and discrimination to some extent) is judged by the experience of the receiver, not the intentions of the sender.

Have an equal opportunity policy – it is having one that is important. It need not be complicated. It may well not be read if it is.

Provide equal opportunity training – not everyone understands, or accepts, what discrimination and harassment really is. Training provides an open forum for getting sensitive matters out in the open. Peer pressure can often be harnessed in the training environment. Furthermore, there are fewer better defences to a claim than the employer having carried out appropriate training.

Have a bullying and harassment policy – If something is wrong then you want to be the first to know about it, don’t you?

Pick up on what is going on – I suspect most people, having worked for a while, will have witnessed sexual harassmentat some level. Stop it at source with a gentle word or informal warning. If you don’t know how to give an informal warning, talk to us.

Create a great atmosphere – the workplace should be a lively place, humour plays a part in wellbeing and, after all, some of us find our partners at work. But it is not a place where people should be hurt, suffer prejudice or be expected to provide favours in order to progress or survive. You can stop sexual harassment at work, without being a prude.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice