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4 minute read • published in partnership with Make UK

Five action points for HR and senior management to tackle sexual harassment at work

The thorny issue of sexual harassment at work continues to be a focus of media and regulatory attention.  In addition, the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 will come into effect from October 2024, introducing a new duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment at work. Make UK looks at this forthcoming additional protection for employees which emphasises the importance of HR taking active steps now, to minimise the legal, reputational and financial risks that could otherwise arise in the future.

There is no doubt that tackling sexual harassment at work is a complex issue, which requires HR to take a multifaceted approach. Below, we highlight five key actions HR and senior management should take to minimise the risks of sexual harassment occurring within the workforce, and ensure that those within their organisation are best placed to manage any issues that do arise:

1 – Clear zero-tolerance messaging: Do your written policies make clear to your workforce that your organisation has a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of harassment?  This is an important message to convey to the whole workforce.  You should undertake a careful review of your relevant policies and procedures (such as your anti-harassment and bullying policy and/or grievance policy) to ensure they expressly communicate to your workforce that harassment will not be tolerated. It is vital that people feel able to raise concerns about any inappropriate conduct and can have confidence that any allegations they do report will be handled fairly, regardless of the status of the alleged perpetrator. Do your policies set out a robust procedure for how your organisation will respond to any complaints that are raised?  As with any policy, it is not enough to just have it written down and tucked away in a drawer somewhere – it must be effectively communicated to the workforce and be properly implemented in practice.

Picture: Getty/iStock

2 – Employee survey: Have you asked your workforce to tell you about their experiences of working in your organisation, to help you understand how prevalent the issue of sexual harassment might be? Conducting an anonymous survey of workers about workplace safety is often a highly effective tool for HR and senior management. By analysing the results of an employee survey, you should be able to gain a clearer insight into where issues within your organisation could lie, hopefully making it easier to address any areas of risk. Setting up an anonymous reporting line for your workforce to raise concerns is another way employers can find out more about any internal practices which are negatively impacting the working environment.

3 – Anti-harassment training for the full workforce: Have you delivered anti-harassment training to your employees? Providing thorough training to the workforce on what constitutes sexual harassment and how to report inappropriate behaviour is a key method of prevention.  Doing this can also help to show that as an employer you have taken ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment from occurring (which would be crucial to your defence if an employee brought a claim). Our understanding of what constitutes acceptable behaviour at work is continually evolving and some conduct that might historically have been viewed as ‘harmless workplace banter’ is now no longer acceptable. Giving employees a ‘safe space’ during a training session to share experiences and explore what counts as inappropriate behaviour can help to establish the right kind of working culture.

4 – Manager training: Do you provide focused training to help your managers identify areas of risk within their teams, proactively take steps to prevent sexual harassment and know how to deal with any concerns that are raised? Do they understand the importance of zero-tolerance messaging and what is involved in taking a zero-tolerance approach?  Do they know how to spot when someone may be experiencing harassment? It is vital that your managers, as well as HR, know how to investigate allegations properly (including how investigation findings should be handled for data protection compliance purposes), as well as how to support the individuals involved. Managers also need clear training on how to fairly carry out any disciplinary processes that may be necessary following a thorough investigation.

Picture: Getty/iStock

5 – Monitoring progress towards a safe, respectful and inclusive working environment will be important in ensuring that the above measures are effective. One way to monitor your progress might be to repeat your employee survey six months or a year after you have communicated any updates to your policies and provided anti-harassment training, to see whether your staff feel more confident that they will be protected from harassment at work. This should also help to identify any areas of your business that continue to give cause for concern.

Of course, the above action points will be significantly easier to achieve if your senior leaders understand the importance of tackling sexual harassment and are actively invested in addressing any damaging internal practices that may have evolved over time.  It is important to send a strong message from the top that your organisation takes a zero-tolerance approach and that any concerns that are raised will be addressed sensitively and thoroughly.

Make UK offers a package of support aimed at preventing sexual harassment at work, including a template Anti-bullying and harassment policy (including guidance notes), employee surveys (Pulse surveys) and anti-harassment training for your workforce (micro-awareness video and/or half day workshop). For further details, click here or email

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