Preventing sexual harassment is one of the most concerning elements of managing staff for many employers. Employers have an obligation to prevent this from occurring and, if it can be shown they have not taken all reasonable steps to stop this, then the employer can be found liable for employee’s actions. Issues of sexual harassment can fall under the radar so employers need to take all possible steps to prevent this happening.
Uber’s reputation has suffered over recent years due to a number of claims about their workplace culture.
This was further highlighted when a former female software engineer wrote a blog post about how her complaints of sexual harassment against a colleague were ignored because they were a high performing employee. The post attracted a lot of attention and the employee wrote that a lot of other women employed by Uber had reported similar problems and concerns to her.
The company has now released details of their firing of 20 employees following a company investigation in to sexual harassment claims. Over 200 claims of sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct were scrutinised which led to the dismissals and other sanctions, including enforcing training for 31 staff and final warnings for seven others.
Uber have also commissioned a report in to how to improve their workplace culture – an indication that they are taking these issues seriously and are ready to take action against offenders in the future.
For all employers, laying out the rules on employee behaviour is a crucial first step for preventing sexual harassment. An anti-harassment policy should include information on what type of behaviour is prohibited and the consequences if the policy is breached.
This policy should recognise that sexual harassment can take a number of forms and include all behaviour whether this is speech, touch, emails, other forms of written communication or jokes and ‘banter’.
All employees should be required to read the policy and sign a notice as evidence they have read and understand the policy.
As well as outlining the rules, employers should provide training for all staff on how to avoid sexual harassment and what steps to take if a complaint needs to be made. Managers should also receive additional training on how to spot incidents, how to deal with complaints and how to ensure sexual harassment issues are not present in their decision-making processes.
The extent of the misconduct revelations uncovered by Uber’s internal investigations highlights how hidden incidents of sexual harassment can be. Employers need to cultivate a culture where employees feel they are able to raise complaints. The easiest way of encouraging employees to raise complaints is to treat every issue seriously; carrying out a full investigation and taking action where necessary.
Also, identifying the person to make as complaint to, and what process will be followed, will also encourage issues being raised as it increases transparency and removes uncertainty about the process.
Kate Palmer is the Head of Advisory at Peninsula.