Written by Nicola Gater | 25th March 2024

All employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace. As well as avoiding injury and illness, this means protecting your people from bullying, harassment, discrimination and other inappropriate behaviours.

New legislation coming into force on October 26 this year means you, as an employer, will be under a statutory duty to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Failure to take such steps could lead to tribunals increasing any compensation won by an employee who has been sexually harassed by up to 25%.

While the specifics of which steps may be reasonable might vary between organisations, every employer will have a responsibility to actively assess risks and implement necessary and appropriate measures to prevent harassment from happening in their workplace.

Every employer should now be considering what action they need to take to comply with the new duties, however we recommend that the following steps be undertaken by all, as a starting point, to protect your employees:

Refresh your Dignity at Work and Anti-harassment Policies

Review and refresh your Dignity at Work and Bullying and Harassment policies and re-circulate to all staff, so they know what behaviour is expected of them.

This should outline unacceptable behaviour, how to report issues and seek support, the procedures that will be followed when handling allegations of bullying and any type of harassment, and the consequences for violating this policy.

Make sure any issues are dealt with quickly in line with these policies – your people managers must have the knowledge, skills and accountability to do this – so staff will trust that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated and that complaints will be taken seriously.

Provide Dignity at Work training

It is not enough only to write and issue policies, but employers must be able to demonstrate that every employee really understands what behaviours are acceptable and knows the consequences if they breach this. From Day 1, as part of your induction process for all new joiners, and throughout their time working with you, there should be regular briefings and training sessions for all. Training must be up-to-date, bespoke to your organisation and meaningful, and its impact should be evaluated afterwards to check it is having the right effect. This type of training is likely to be the first thing a tribunal judge will look for when hearing a harassment case, and stale training or training that is no more than a tick-box exercise, is unlikely to meet the “reasonable steps” defence.

Our Dignity at Work training course for managers and employees covers the legal “need-to-knows” as well as giving bespoke and practical advice about how to approach this in your company.

While looking at employer and employee rights and responsibilities, these workshops also cover the types of discrimination, how to recognise it and how to support the needs of individuals. They explore the idea of unconscious bias and its impact, gives guidance on what to say (and what not to say!), and looks at how proactively tackling discrimination and inappropriate behaviour will help create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Ensure you have an effective reporting system

Ahead of October, take a fresh look at what is really happening in your organisation. If issues have occurred previously, ensure lessons were learnt about how it could have been prevented.

Put in place (if you don’t have already) a reporting system for complaints about all forms of harassment in the workplace. Think about how complaints are addressed. For example, how do employees report harassment if it has come from their superior?

As well as spotting issues early, it will be important to detect any trends and resolve any underlying issues which might enable harassment to occur.

Create a culture of open communication

It’s important that employees feel safe and able to speak up about inappropriate behaviour without fear of retaliation. This starts with actively promoting and modelling your policies and procedures – at senior and management level.

Let employees know you’re there to help – leaders and people managers must be approachable so that employees feel they can speak up in confidence without judgement.

If you create a healthy work culture where values are clear, everyone is treated with respect and works as a team, then employees are likely to treat each other in the right way.

Reality HR will be exploring this topic more in the coming months as we approach October and the launch of the new duty. We recommend employers start to develop their plans as soon as possible. For support with reviewing your approach to Dignity at Work including your policies, procedures and training, please get in touch with our team at [email protected]