Combating LGBT sexual harassment in the workplace

03
Jun

Following on from Durham’s Pride festival and as we enter Pride month in June, it is important to remember that employers not only are legally required by The Equality Act 2010 to protect employees from harassment and discrimination at work, but also morally this should be top of every manager’s list when defining a workplace culture.

 

Earlier this month, on the International Day Against Homophobia, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) worryingly revealed that approximately 70% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-people (LGBT) have been sexually harassed at work. The source of their information was a survey commissioned by them and prepared by ICM Unlimited following their interviews with just over one thousand people.

The report went on to explain that 42% of LGBT people had experienced colleagues making unwelcome comments or asking questions about their sex life and 27% had received unwelcome verbal sexual advances.

The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady described this as a “hidden epidemic” and insisted that “workplace culture needs to change”. Indeed the TUC has called on the Government to introduce a Statutory Code of Practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work.

 

Employers have a duty to protect their employees from any form of discrimination. An initial starting point to combat harassment, of any kind, is to ensure a discrimination policy is put in place and all are aware of it. However, despite most businesses having these in place, sadly 66% of those questioned had not informed their employer about the harassment as many of them were afraid of being “outed” at work.  

 

What more can an employer do?

Begin with defining your organisations current set of values and behaviours. Are they reflective of an inclusive environment for all? Most importantly, do they allow LGBT employees to feel safe in approaching management if they were to have any issues relating to harassment or discrimination?

Ensure that these values are aligned with your company’s strategy and are communicated to each employee, whether that is through training, awareness days and policies.

 

Your policy must first and foremost adhere to the law, but also be robust and clear in defining discrimination/harassment. Implement your policy throughout the entire business by training key members of staff, such as team leaders, in the mechanics of the policy. This will enable them to recognise if LGBT harassment or discriminating behaviours are taking place and provide actions as to how the situation should be managed.

Additional to having a policy which will protect your LGBT employees, review other polices such as parental leave to reflect equality. Ensure your policy allows for LGBT couples to have exactly the same rights as a heterosexual couple in terms of maternity and adoption leave.

 

If you are finding it difficult to educate your team on these, there are many local LGBT organisations that have a number of resources including best practices and toolkits.

 

If you have a query relating to this article or require further advice on other aspects of employment or HR law please contact Jonathan Moreland (jmm@swinburnemaddison.co.uk) or Sharney Randhawa (shr@swinburnemaddison.co.uk) or call us on 0191 3842441.

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