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A surge in requests for workplace mediation
The revelations and accusations of sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond against Harvey Weinstein and others have seen a tide of allegations that have rippled around the globe. As more women, and men, stepped forward to make allegations, the actress Alyssa Milano asked victims of sexual assault to come forward in a show of solidarity using #MeToo.
The term gained rapid momentum Twitter confirmed to CBS News on 24 October that over 1.7 million tweets included the hashtag “#MeToo,” with 85 countries that had at least 1,000 #MeToo tweets. Facebook released statistics showing that there were more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions regarding “Me Too” in less than 24 hours, by 4.7 million users around the world.
Allegations were being made in many areas including the theatre, politics as well as more traditional workplaces. The BBC has said it is dealing with a “spike” in complaints of sexual harassment. Anne Bulford, Deputy Director, told MPs the corporation is currently investigating 25 individuals for alleged sexual harassment, where last year only three cases were investigated.
At STILLHR we have seen a surge in requests from organisations to support them in resolving allegations from staff emboldened by an atmosphere, in part fuelled by the media, to challenge behaviour they deemed to be unacceptable in the workplace.
Inappropriate behaviour or sexual harassment?
Whether a hand on the knee is inappropriate, let alone sexual harassment, will depend on a variety of factors, most importantly purpose but also context, frequency and response. Harassment as defined in the Equality Act 2010 is “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.” Harassment of a sexual nature is one of the most common forms, specifically outlawed as it relates to a relevant protected characteristic.
Mediation can be a powerful and effective option, when appropriate…
Allegations of inappropriate behaviour which could constitute sexual harassment need careful deliberation as to whether mediation is an appropriate course of action to facilitate possible resolution. One first needs to determine whether the allegation is of a sufficiently serious nature that a formal complaint and investigation is more appropriate.
Mediation can be better suited when both parties can see and acknowledge the breakdown in the working relationship and voluntarily seek a means to improve and find resolution. In the case of a one-way allegation (i.e. one that is not acknowledged or accepted by the other person) the accused is often left with what can appear to be limited choices – mediation or a formal investigation. In all cases the employer must take care of both the accuser and accused.
“No harm intended”
Where behaviour unintended to cause offense has resulted in discomfort and conflict, the process of mediation can be healing and reassuring. Mediation enables voices to be heard, explanations to be made, misunderstandings to be corrected leading to agreed changes going forward to create a better working relationship.
The tried and tested conflict resolution and mediation techniques can help save working relationships and avoid the massive distraction, emotional upheaval, lost time and distress which comes from resolving formal allegations.
FIND OUT HOW WE CAN HELP YOUR ORGANISATION
To learn more about STILLHR’s sensitive and effective approach, call Robert Still for an initial informal confidential chat on 07932 762 448.
By Robert Still FCIPD of STILLHR