Remember: Sexual harassment can have male victims as well as female victims

After the recent coverage of the #metoo campaign, it has become all too easy to assume that the victims of sexual harassment are women, and the perpetrators men. This is not always the case. HR professionals need to be sure that there is an even-handed approach to handling of sexual allegations, regardless of gender.

With high-profile allegations coming to the forefront in showbusiness and political circles, many businesses have found that they are unsure as to how to handle allegations of sexual harassment against men.

In workplace sexual harassment, it is often a stereotype that the harasser is male, making lewd jokes, inappropriately touching, or propositioning junior female staff members. While this may be true in many instances, there are a significant number of claims where men harass men, or women harass men.

While sexual harassment is often an abuse of power and a means of advancing up the career ladder, it is becoming clear that some women are taking advantage of this power position to abuse men.

In a BBC Radio 5 survey 20% of men who were questioned said that they had been sexually harassed. This ranged from inappropriate comments to sexual assaults. What became more disturbing was that 79% of all victims kept this to themselves, for fear of embarrassment. The men were concerned about being ridiculed, fearing that their masculinity would be scrutinised by complaining.

Another reason the men did not complain was that they did not think they would be taken seriously and their complaints would be treated as a joke.

With changing social attitudes, these views must be challenged, and men should be encouraged to come forward, voice their concerns, and share their experiences.

HR departments should be well prepared to meet this different complaint and be willing to listen to men speaking out about any form of discrimination, whether it is sexual harassment or any other form of abuse. HR should be aware of the importance of keeping an open mind in these instances.

Any complaints of sexual harassment should be taken seriously with the person making the complaint treated sensitively and fairly. Support should be offered to both parties concerned.

Employers have a duty of care towards both male and female employees, and failure to treat them with respect could lead to personal injury claims, should an employee feel they have not been treated sympathetically.

Companies also have a duty of care to their staff to maintain mutual trust. Treating either the complainant or the perpetrator in an unfair way may lead to constructive dismissal claims being made.

The decision to suspend the alleged perpetrator should not be taken lightly either. Unjustified suspension can lead to the employee resigning and later successfully claiming constructive dismissal or personal injury.

A fair and balanced enquiry, with evidence gathered from both parties will support claims of sexual harassment. If this has taken place, the perpetrator should be dealt with in accordance with company disciplinary policies, regardless of age, gender, or seniority level.

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