What it should say
The code talks about agreeing a policy in consultation with all interested and affected parties and acknowledging this in the policy. It stipulates that the policy should address the contribution to be made by the trade unions and employees.
Policies should be written in simple language for those with literacy problems or translated for those who do not speak fluent English. Procedures should also be produced in Braille or large print formats, and employers should consider the availability of signers.
It should begin with a general declaration about the organisation’s commitment to ensuring that the workplace is free from harassment and what sanctions it will impose and against whom.
The policy should set out the definitions of harassment and give examples. It should state how far the protection extends, that is, beyond the workplace to conferences and other events. The policy should also state that it is up to the employee to decide what behaviour is unwelcome and that employees who make a complaint will not be victimised.
Duty of management
The policy should state what management will do about harassment and the responsibility of management to:
- lead by example
- promote awareness
- respond sensitively
- ensure that the alleged perpetrator is treated fairly
- ensure there will be no victimisation
- monitor and follow up the situation after a complaint is made so that harassment does not reoccur
Duty of employees
The policy should also set out the duty of employees to achieve, and contribute to achieving, a harassment free environment. It should make reference to the fact that harassment by non employees will not be tolerated.
The policy also needs to provide a complaints procedure to process and deal with any acts of harassment. The complaints procedure needs to be clear so that an employee knows what to do and who to approach. Time limits should be set for every stage of the investigation. It should be made clear that the complaints procedure is in addition to an employee's statutory right to make a complaint under the Employment Equality Act and point out the statutory time limits. It also needs to specifically address victimisation, the maintenance of confidentiality and sanctions, and set out both an informal and formal process.
In addition, it should identify a named person to assist in an informal resolution and to provide information to both employees and non employees on the procedure and policy in general. An informal process could involve mediation.
A formal complaints procedure may be appropriate where:
- The employee making the complaint wishes it to be treated formally.
- The alleged harassment is too serious to be treated under the informal procedure.
- Informal attempts at resolution had been unsatisfactory.
- The sexual harassment or harassment continues after the informal procedure has been followed.
At least two people should investigate the complaint. The investigation team should have gender balance and seek to ensure diversity across the other eight grounds. The investigation team should have received appropriate training and complaints should be resolved speedily.
If a right to appeal exists, both parties should be informed of it as well as the time limits and procedures involved. Both parties to a complaint should receive support and regular review following the investigation.
Where the accused is not an employee, they may not wish to participate in a formal procedure or it may not be possible to secure their participation. Nonetheless a non employee must be kept informed of all developments and given an opportunity to respond to them.
The policy should include a commitment to effective communication of the policy through the staff handbook, newsletters, training manuals, training courses leaflets, websites, emails and notice boards. Employees and those in management should be made aware of the policy as part of any formal induction process.
Summaries of the policy should be prominently displayed. Where this is not feasible, a short statement confirming the policy’s existence and the organisation's commitment to it will do instead. The code suggests inserting a reference to the policy in contracts with clients, customers and other business contacts with a clause that harassment may constitute a repudiation of the contract or may be grounds for the employer to treat the contract as at an end.
What the complainant and alleged perpetrator need to know
- What the formal procedure entails and the relevant time frame.
- The right to be accompanied/represented.
- The complaint should be in writing.
- The alleged perpetrator will be given full details in writing of the nature of the complaint including written statements and any other documentation or evidence including witness statements, interview notes or records of meetings held with the witnesses.
- The alleged perpetrator will be given time to consider the documentation and an opportunity to respond.
- Confidentiality will be maintained throughout any investigation to the greatest extent consistent with the requirements of a fair investigation.
- Written records will be kept of all meetings and investigations.
- The investigation will produce a written report to both parties outlining its findings and the reasons for its final decision.
- If the complaint is upheld, the report will recommend whether the organisation’s disciplinary procedure should be invoked.
- If the complaint is upheld against a non employee, a report should recommend appropriate sanctions against the non employee which could extend to exclusion of the individual from the premises, or suspension or termination of a supply, service or other contract.
- The report may also, or as an alternative, recommend other actions such as training or more effective promotion of the organisation’s policy on harassment.