How to Deal with Complaints of Sexual Harassment

The investigations into the alleged sexual assaults against Harvey Weinstein have highlighted the importance of employers having harassment, sexual harassment and bullying policies in place. It’s important that employers make it known to employees that all reported complaints will be taken seriously, handled in a confidential, sensitive manner and fair, transparent and thorough investigations will be followed.

 

What Management Need to Know

 

  1. Fair Procedure

All complaints should be treated seriously, regardless of the individuals named and irrespective of whether management feel sexual harassment was unlikely to have occurred. The company’s resolutions procedures should be clearly explained to the complainant and a copy of the procedure issued to them. The complainant should be asked how they want their complaint handled, informally or formally. Complaints of a serious nature should be addressed through the formal procedures.

 

  1. Gather Evidence

When a formal complaint has been received, an appropriate, impartial manager should initiate an investigation into the alleged complaint. The investigation should adhere to the principles of natural justice and be governed by terms of reference. The complainant should be asked to outline their complaint in writing, detailing as much information as possible, such as dates, times, locations, details of the alleged incident(s) and potential witnesses.

The investigator should meet with the complainant, the respondent and witnesses. All documentation should be circulated to both the complainant and respondent to give them a chance to respond to all supporting documentation. On completion of the investigation, a report should be issued to both parties detailing the investigator’s findings.

 

  1. Provide Support

Once a complaint has been raised, management should take reasonable steps to support all parties involved. If there is an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place, employees should be provided with details of the service and a contact number.

In situations where both the complainant and the respondent work in close proximately, employers can consider moving the parties involved for the duration of the investigation. Alternatively, both employees can be placed on paid suspension pending an investigation. Both parties should be treated equally during the course of the investigation. It’s important to highlight the reason for the suspension is to allow an investigation to take place and clarify that it is not a disciplinary measure.

 

While the above steps outline what needs to be done once a complaint has been received, employers can take a proactive approach in an attempt to avoid receiving complaints of such a serious nature by ensuring;

 

  1. Clear Procedures are in Place

Regardless of whether your company is a small SME or large multinational, every company should have a Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Bullying prevention policy in place. This policy should outline the types of behaviour that are likely to amount to sexual harassment, harassment or bullying. The policy should include a complaint procedure that clearly identifies who complaints should be reported to, the resolution process (i.e informal and formal procedures) and the right to be represented at formal meetings.

 

  1. Trained Managers & Employees

Managers should be provided with training to ensure that they understand what sexual harassment, harassment & bullying are and what the company policy entails. Training will equip managers with the appropriate skills they require in order to handle complaints.

All employees should be provided with dignity & respect at work training. This training aims to provide awareness around sexual harassment, harassment & bullying policy and procedure. It will outline the different behaviours associated with sexual harassment, harassment & bullying. During the training, employees will be brought through the company’s policy so that there is no ambiguity surrounding the policy. As employers can be held vicariously liable for their employees’ behaviour, providing employees with the appropriate training can help mitigate against potential claims.

 

If you have any questions regarding harassment, sexual harassment or bullying please don’t hesitate to contact the advice line on 01 886 0350

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Nora Cashe

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Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.