Responding to sexual harassment claims in the charity sector

15 January, 2018

In our last blog post, we looked at the Charity Commission’s new safeguarding strategy. This blog post looks specifically at allegations of sexual harassment and best practice for dealing with those.

 

Oxfam recently made the headlines for mishandling an allegation of sexual harassment brought by Lesley Agams, the charity’s former country director in Nigeria. The Charity Commission have since investigated the claim and published a Case Report which found “incidents of behaviour that did not meet the organisation’s culture and values…”. Oxfam has now committed to an externally led review of its HR culture and the Charity Commission has promised to publish a follow up Case Report on the charity later this year which will include lessons for the charity sector as a whole.

 

In the meantime, what should charities be doing to avoid sexual harassment claims and what should they do if the worst happens and a complaint is received?

man with hand on woman's shoulder

 

Prevention

  • Ensure procedures are in place for efficient tracking and reporting of incidents of sexual harassment and abuse both internally and externally;
  • Forward-plan the allocation of resources to deal with allegations;
  • Train and manage staff in line with charity values about harassment, abuse, and your charity’s safeguarding practices; and
  • Internally review your organisation’s culture to determine and mitigate any risks.

 

Responding to a complaint

  • Refer to your organisation’s harassment policy to ensure the correct procedure is followed.
  • Don’t dismiss complaints before investigating them. When deciding whether the alleged conduct is sexual harassment it is important to remember that it is the effect of the behaviour on the recipient that counts and not how it appears to another person.
  • Deal with any complaint quickly and confidentially. Make sure all paperwork and electronic documents regarding the complaint have suitable protection.
  • Be fair. You will need to be supportive to anyone who makes a complaint while at the same time treating the alleged harasser fairly.
  • Consider whether the complainant and alleged harasser can continue to work together. If not you may have to suspend both on full pay for the duration of the investigation. You should not move the complainant or pressure them to move unless they have specifically asked for this.

 

If you have any specific questions about sexual harassment or safeguarding or would like help putting together a safeguarding and / or anti-harassment policy, please contact Emma Saunders.