Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work. Sexual harassment denies this simple and basic right and should not be tolerated in the workplace. Harassment can cause ill-health and stress. It should be challenged when it happens and it should be tackled by employers.
The public relations workplace is no different to any other. You may know someone who has been or is being sexually harassed, you may have heard stories about it, or you yourself may have felt under pressure from inappropriate behaviour or unreasonable expectations in your relationship with colleagues or clients. Wherever it occurs, sexual harassment is something we can stop.
If you are experiencing or are aware of sexual harassment at work, you can contact:
The Equality Advisory and Support Service
Phone: 0808 800 0082, Textphone: 0808 800 008, FAX: 0800 090 2305
(Open: Monday – Friday, 9am - 7pm, Saturday, 10am - 2pm)
Helpline: 0300 123 1100 (Open: Monday - Friday, 8am-6pm)
You can also contact Citizens Advice and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission
If you are personally experiencing sexual harassment, you should:
1. Avoid being alone with the person who is sexually harassing you.
2. Keep a record of the incidents as they happen. Note dates, times and witness and record anything, including how the incident made you feel, as well as any relevant evidence of an impact on your work. Keep a record of any medical advice or treatment that you seek as a result of unwanted behaviour.
3. If you feel you are able to do so, let your manager, HR or a staff representative know that you feel you are being sexually harassed.
4. If you feel you are able to do so, talk to colleagues. You may not be the only person in the workplace who is being sexually harassed. Someone may have witnessed what has happened to you.
5. If you feel you can, tell the person to stop whatever it is they are doing and let them know that it is causing you distress, otherwise they may be unaware of the effect of their actions. If you find it difficult to tell the person yourself, you may wish to get someone else – a colleague, HR, trade union official or confidential counsellor – to act on your behalf. If you cannot confront them, consider writing a memo to them to make it clear what it is you object to in their behaviour. Keep copies of this and any reply.
6. Be firm, not aggressive. Be positive and calm. Stick to the facts. Be prepared to describe what happened even if you find it difficult.
Sexual assault, which can be a part of sexual harassment, is a criminal matter and should be reported to the police. Call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger, or if the crime is in progress or call 101 to contact the police if the crime is not an emergency.
Know your rights. You can complain, even if it isn’t about you:
Your employer has a duty to protect you from sexual harassment at work. This includes being sexually harassed at work by someone not employed by them, such as a client. If you make a formal complaint, follow your employer’s procedures – they should give you information about who to complain to and how your complaint will be dealt with. You can complain about sexual harassment at work even if you are not being subjected to it.
This page on gov.uk explains what you can do about workplace harassment.
Challenge workplace culture:
Sexual Harassment is understood by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature and is included within the Equality Act 2010. This could be unwelcome sexual advances – touching, standing too close, the display of offensive materials, asking for sexual favours or making decisions on the basis of sexual advances being accepted or rejected. It can create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment and it violates a person’s dignity. ACAS offers training on unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. It also provides guidance for employers.
Challenge unprofessional conduct:
Sexual harassment is illegal and it is certainly wrong and unprofessional. CIPR members sign a code of conduct which regulates their lives as professionals. Members are expected and required to “deal honestly and fairly in business with employers, employees, clients, fellow professionals, other professions and the public.” We interpret this clause as an injunction against members to refrain from any kind of harassment or unacceptable behaviour, in their own workplace, in someone else’s work place or in any situation, public or private.
You can contact our ethical helpline (020 76316969) to discuss this or contact our Regulatory Consultant, Martin Horrox to make a complaint.