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Updated 22 May 2020
When the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October 2017, it triggered a revolution, throwing the spotlight on incidences of assault and harassment across not only Hollywood but every professional industry.
Five months on, a host of Hollywood stars have come together to form Time’s Up, an initiative that aims to address the “systematic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential.”(1) It aims to improve laws, employment agreements and corporate policies, as well as enable women and men to access the right avenues in which wrongdoers can be held accountable.
Taking Time’s Up into the workplace
The first step is understanding the process in which to report any inappropriate behaviour or workplace harassment by recognising the chain of command and the resources available to you.
The Equality Act of 2010 defines harassment as “unwanted or unwelcome behaviour which is meant to or has the effect of either violating your dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”(2). Harassment at work can take the form of unwanted advances from a fellow employee, spreading malicious rumours or the deliberate undermining of someone through criticism.
A 2016 Trades Union Congress report found that in the UK, 52% of women polled had experienced some form of sexual harassment, with nearly one quarter experiencing unwanted touching. However, four out of five women did not report the harassment to their employer.(3)
What to do if it happens to you
If you ever experience any of these situations, or generally feel uncomfortable, threatened or bullied in the workplace, it is paramount that you record it in preparation for a formal report. Take note of the time, place and circumstances in which the incident took place, noting if there was anyone else around who could corroborate your claim. At this point, it is also worth educating yourself on the existing company policies around equal opportunity and bullying and harassment at work.
Once you feel like you’ve collected enough evidence, it’s time to file an official report with HR. According to the Act, they have a responsibility to stop any harassment at work, inclusive of work-related events that may occur outside of official working hours. They are required to follow a procedure, taking all reasonable steps to investigate the complaint and deal with it appropriately. During the investigation, you have the right to have anyone accompany you to meetings, whether that be a supportive friend or family member or witness that can provide additional information about your claim. You should record any actions taken by your employer during the process to track progress.
If your workplace doesn’t have an HR department, or you find your HR department unhelpful, there are other resources in place that can help ensure accountability. The Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) can provide advice over the phone, explaining the laws and how a situation could be resolved, as well as suggesting mediation services. It can also assist you in deciding if you’re eligible for civil legal aid or help you find an accessible legal service.
Similarly, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) provides advice and information on workplace relations and employment law, with useful resources for both employees and employers. It also features an online helpline for any questions surrounding workplace harassment you may have.
If your report goes unmonitored or isn’t acted upon by the relevant department, it is also worth considering an employment tribunal. These external committees assess whether employers have taken all the necessary steps to prevent any forms of harassment. You could also consider one of these if the harassment at work continues after you’ve reported it, there’s no-one to complain to or you are not happy with the handling or outcome of any investigation.
Outside of the workplace bullying laws and legal steps, you may also want to explore counselling or other support networks, as incidents of harassment or abuse can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. In the UK, options include Safeline, SupportLine, The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, BullyingUK and Mind.
Equal employment opportunities and the relevant HR policies are worth bringing up at interview stage. If, however, you spot any red flags during the recruitment process, it may be worth considering alternative roles.
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