How would you manage an allegation of sexual misconduct in your business?

Why is sexual misconduct an issue for you or your business?

The media have been full of allegations of sexual misconduct  concerning people in politics, sport and the movies, but so far they have left the business community alone. However, some have alleged that this sort of thing goes on in all areas of life. I tend to think that is the case. Without making the headlines, people make claims for sexual harassment in the workplace every week. Perhaps nobody has ever made such a claim against anyone in your business. If so, ask yourself is it a result of  luck or good management?

What do I consider to be the sexual harassment risk?

There are two risks. It is important to be aware of both and not to  focus on either to the exclusion of the other.

Firstly, there is the risk that someone might bring a claim or a complaint against the business or an individual in it. It may or may not be justified. There are several aspects to this risk:

  1. Damage to the firm’s reputation.
  2. Compensation to the complainant.
  3. Diversion of resources into investigating and processing the matter.

Secondly, there is the risk that people will commit acts of sexual misconduct with impunity. This happens if there is a culture where people seem to regard it as acceptable and where victims are afraid to complain. In such places, some people usually appear to be above the law.

This can result in:

  1. High staff turnover.
  2. Stress and strained relationships.
  3. The failure to promote or retain good employees who fail to cooperate or fit in with the culture.
Sexual harassment is a risk that can be managed

As with any other risk, there is no guarantee that any controls will work all the time, but you can take measures to reduce the risk and not just leave it to  chance.

  1. Have a clear policy setting out what is and what is not  acceptable.
  2. Ensure you communicate it.
  3. Ensure you enforce it and challenge remarks or actions you consider unacceptable, before they lead to complaints.
  4. Have arrangements for people to complain to an independent person without fear of recrimination.
  5. Have a procedure for investigating and adjudicating complaints.
  6. Maintain records of complaints, how they were handled and what was the outcome.
Allegations of sexual misconduct must be properly investigated
Allegations of sexual misconduct must be properly investigated

A sound policy and procedure should give everyone confidence due to certainty and it should deter bad behaviour and also discourage trivial complaints. If in doubt, consult an HR professional or other expert in this field.

Finally, remember that sexual harassment often goes with a culture of bullying and intimidation. It is especially prevalent when a few people have apparently complete power over others. A lack of transparency will make things worse.