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HR Legal

How are companies responsible for preventing and reacting to sexual harassment?

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Legal news
calendar 20 December 2020
globus Norway

In the wake of the #metoo movement, focus on sexual harassment at the workplace has increased in Norway. When entering a, although limited, Christmas-party season companies also enter the peak season for sexual harassment, and it is therefore important that companies are aware of their responsibilities. In this newsletter, we are therefore taking a closer look at the companies’ responsibility with regards to sexual harassment at the workplace.

Companies’ responsibility with regards to sexual harassment at the workplace is two-folded. Firstly, there is a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. Secondly, there is a responsibility to act when sexual harassment has occurred.

Preventive responsibility to ensure a safe working environment

Companies are responsible for ensuring a safe working environment. This also includes a responsibility to introduce measures to prevent sexual harassment.

When mapping and assessing risks to the working environment, sexual harassment must therefore be included. Potential risk factors could be employees with a lot of contact with customers and clients, but also social work events such as the annual Christmas party or work trips, a workforce with many younger employees, or employees working at late hours.

Besides from including sexual harassment in the risk assessment, companies are responsible for implementing measures with the intent to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. There are no requirements as to what these measures should entail, but it is a requirement that employees are made aware of what sexual harassment is, what the internal rules and guidelines are, to whom and how an employee should notify the company if they become aware of sexual harassment, and the company’s internal process for handling reports hereon.

While all these responsibilities will apply for all companies, companies with more than 50 employees will be subject to specified obligations. These will also apply for companies with 20 to 50 employees, on the condition that the company or employees requires it.

Companies must react to sexual harassment

Should sexual harassment occur, companies must conduct an investigation. This responsibility is not only triggered by a formal notification, but also if the affected employee contacts the company by other means, for example by calling or e-mailing their manager.

There are no statutory requirements as to how companies should conduct the investigation. It is therefore up to each company to assess what is necessary in the specific case. In its investigation, companies are recommended to consider:

  • Give the accused individual a possibility to issue an opinion on the matter
  • Choose an objective and competent decisionmaker or case handler
  • Document every step of the investigation
  • Keep the investigation as confidential as possible
  • Inform the relevant parties of the progress of the investigation

When the investigation is completed, companies must find a solution and implement the necessary measures in all relevant areas. Companies further have a duty to implement preventive measures if sexual harassment is still occurring or if the working environment makes it necessary.

IUNO’s opinion

Companies can be liable for compensation towards the affected employee, if it has neglected its responsibility to prevent sexual harassment or to act when sexual harassment has taken place. Effective measures are therefore not only important to the individual employee, but to all the employees, the working environment in general and to the company.

IUNO recommends that companies implement internal rules and guidelines on sexual harassment and implement a system for whistleblowing that the employees are made aware of. Measures such as relocation, attitude campaigns and sexual harassment courses for managers and employee representatives, are good examples of what can be implemented internally in the company.

Companies’ responsibility with regards to sexual harassment at the workplace is two-folded. Firstly, there is a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. Secondly, there is a responsibility to act when sexual harassment has occurred.

Preventive responsibility to ensure a safe working environment

Companies are responsible for ensuring a safe working environment. This also includes a responsibility to introduce measures to prevent sexual harassment.

When mapping and assessing risks to the working environment, sexual harassment must therefore be included. Potential risk factors could be employees with a lot of contact with customers and clients, but also social work events such as the annual Christmas party or work trips, a workforce with many younger employees, or employees working at late hours.

Besides from including sexual harassment in the risk assessment, companies are responsible for implementing measures with the intent to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. There are no requirements as to what these measures should entail, but it is a requirement that employees are made aware of what sexual harassment is, what the internal rules and guidelines are, to whom and how an employee should notify the company if they become aware of sexual harassment, and the company’s internal process for handling reports hereon.

While all these responsibilities will apply for all companies, companies with more than 50 employees will be subject to specified obligations. These will also apply for companies with 20 to 50 employees, on the condition that the company or employees requires it.

Companies must react to sexual harassment

Should sexual harassment occur, companies must conduct an investigation. This responsibility is not only triggered by a formal notification, but also if the affected employee contacts the company by other means, for example by calling or e-mailing their manager.

There are no statutory requirements as to how companies should conduct the investigation. It is therefore up to each company to assess what is necessary in the specific case. In its investigation, companies are recommended to consider:

  • Give the accused individual a possibility to issue an opinion on the matter
  • Choose an objective and competent decisionmaker or case handler
  • Document every step of the investigation
  • Keep the investigation as confidential as possible
  • Inform the relevant parties of the progress of the investigation

When the investigation is completed, companies must find a solution and implement the necessary measures in all relevant areas. Companies further have a duty to implement preventive measures if sexual harassment is still occurring or if the working environment makes it necessary.

IUNO’s opinion

Companies can be liable for compensation towards the affected employee, if it has neglected its responsibility to prevent sexual harassment or to act when sexual harassment has taken place. Effective measures are therefore not only important to the individual employee, but to all the employees, the working environment in general and to the company.

IUNO recommends that companies implement internal rules and guidelines on sexual harassment and implement a system for whistleblowing that the employees are made aware of. Measures such as relocation, attitude campaigns and sexual harassment courses for managers and employee representatives, are good examples of what can be implemented internally in the company.

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Anders

Etgen Reitz

Partner

Sofie

Aurora Braut Bache

Associate

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