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07 March 2018
What started with complaints against an Oscar-winning film producer has led to a movement that has toppled government ministers, reduced much-loved figures from the entertainment world to pariahs and forced the reshooting of a film in order to replace an actor now under criminal investigation.
The evolving sexual harassment narrative in the national and international media should make business leaders and human resources (HR) professionals everywhere consider whether their procedures and policies in respect of sexual harassment are effective and – equally importantly – properly communicated across their organisations.
Although Guernsey may feel far away from Hollywood or Westminster, the issue of sexual harassment is just as real there. A 2015 survey showed that almost 50% of professional women felt that they had experienced some form of harassment in the Guernsey workplace.
So what should an employer do to protect its employees and its business from harassment?
The most important thing that an employer can do to protect both the company and its employees is to take complaints seriously, whether they are made formally or informally. Complaints should be investigated robustly by way of a fair, proper and appropriate investigation that neither undermines the complainant nor scapegoats the subject of the complaint.
'Sexual harassment' is a concept defined in employment legislation and is not a criminal offence – it is important to recognise this distinction. Employers and HR teams should be prepared for instances where a complaint crosses the line between a matter that can be resolved internally and one that should be referred to the police. Where a complaint falls into the realms of criminal conduct, employees who opt for the matter to be dealt with by the police should be supported.
Under Guernsey law, an employee can make a claim against both the alleged harasser and the employer – no matter whether the employer was aware of the alleged harassment. Further, the usual qualifying period of one year's service before an employee can bring a claim does not apply in cases of sexual harassment.
Successful claimants can expect to receive damages in the region of three months' salary for gender discrimination or nine months' salary if they have resigned as a result of the discrimination, and there may be additional contractual sums due. However, as can be seen internationally, the reputational damage that can result from losing a sex discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal, especially in a small jurisdiction like Guernsey, goes beyond financial loss and affects not only your brand in commercial terms, but also your reputation as an employer.
The Weinstein and Westminster sexual harassment stories should be prompting all employers to review their policies and procedures, bring them up to date and, where necessary, take advice both in order to deal with existing issues and to prevent claims from arising in the first place.
For further information on this topic please contact Rachel Richardson at Ogier by telephone (+44 1481 721 672) or email (email@example.com). The Ogier website can be accessed at www.ogier.com.
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