Step 3 - Standard operating procedures

Develop procedures on how to report and follow-up incidents of sexual harassment. Inform all the employees about the procedure.  

If there are no procedures in place, employees will feel insecure about when to notify management.  Managers will be unsure of their responsibilities. This may result in transfer of responsibility to the victim and trivialising of the victim’s experiences. The consequences may be sickness absenteeism or conflicts, and this may eventually result in employees handing in their notice.

Employees must always report experiences of unwanted sexual attention and offensive behaviour, whether carried out by customers, guests, clients, colleagues or managers. All employees who witness or know of a harassment incident are obliged to notify the employer or safety representative. If a manager is the problem, the manager’s immediate superior must be notified.

Employees may also contact the occupational health service (“bedriftshelsetjeneste”, BHT), the Labour Inspection Authority or the Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud for advice and guidance.

Links to the Labour Inspection Authority and the Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud:

 

Managers are obliged to investigate allegations of harassment in the workplace and must react immediately.

Harassment by customers, guests or clients

With regard to harassment by customers, guests or clients, it is important that there is always a responsible member of staff present who has the authority to reprimand the undesirable behaviour or action, and who can ensure that the behaviour results in consequences for the customer, guest or client. All such incidents should also be reported and recorded for possible follow-up at a later date.

Harassment between employees

With regard to allegations of harassment between employees, it is important that the manager dealing with the matter is not in any way the accused party. Separate meetings must be held with the parties in order to clarify the facts, and/or the experiences of the parties. Both the accuser and the accused are entitled to be heard and to present their versions of the matter. The parties have the right to testify without the other party being present. Both parties should be encouraged to be accompanied by a representative (safety representative, employees’ representative or colleague) and minutes must be taken of the meeting. No conclusion must be drawn until both parties and any witnesses have testified (principle of hearing both sides of a case).

Whistleblowing involves reporting something one perceives to be censurable/wrong to someone who can do something about the matter. The aim of sound procedures for dealing with such matters is that it must be safe to notify management and that the censurable conditions must be brought to an end. Reports of harassment must have no negative consequences for employees. The same applies to any witnesses who have come forward. The prohibition against retaliation is regulated by section 2 A-2 of the Working Environment Act and section 14 of the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act.

To prevent further negative development of the matter, it is important to follow up on those involved. All cases must be documented in personnel and health, safety and environment (HSE) systems. It is important to assess whether there is a need to improve the procedures for preventing or dealing with harassment.

 

Dealing with cases of sexual harassment and other forms of harassment between employees

A person who feels harassed may adopt any of the following procedures.

  • Submit a written or oral report to his or her immediate superior. If the immediate superior is the accused, the notification is submitted to the superior’s immediate superior.
  • Submit a written or oral report to the safety representative or employees’ representative, who then raises the matter with the manager.
  • If it is found difficult to notify the managers, the notification can be submitted to the human resources department.
  • A person who feels they are being harassed may also seek the advice of the occupational health service (“bedriftshelsetjenesten”, BHT).

If a manager hears/learns or knows of harassing behaviours, he or she is obliged to deal with the matter as if a report had been submitted.

NB! Verbal reports must be recorded in writing. A person who orally notifies management will later be requested to send a written account of the incident.

Meeting with the notifier of harassment

  • A manager who is made aware that a colleague feels harassed must take the matter seriously.
  • Inform that the notifier of the harassment will be summoned to a meeting within one week at the latest. The purpose of the meeting is to clarify the accuser’s allegations. At the same time, inform that the notifier may be accompanied by a representative at the meeting.
  • The meeting should start by the employer setting a framework for the meeting. Explain that, as the employer, you have a duty of confidentiality concerning the information you receive, but that, as the employer, you also have an obligation to act if you acquire knowledge of harassment that may threaten a sound working environment. In such a case, the employer is obliged to re-establish a fully satisfactory working environment.
  • If the matter concerns two employees, you must safeguard the legal security of both parties. Firstly, the matter must be dealt with by a person who is objective. Secondly, the principle of hearing both sides of a case must be adhered to. This means that both parties have the right to present their own versions and be given access to the other party’s version of the matter.
  • The employer is obliged to treat the matter as confidential. The employer may also expect that the involved parties, out of regard for the duty of loyalty, avoid an escalation of the matter.
  • In the meeting, you request the notifier to give his or her version of the incident, and how they experienced it.
  • Enquire whether there were any witnesses present, and whether there is evidence to substantiate the allegations of harassment.
  • On the basis of the report received from the notifier and the information revealed by investigation of the matter, the manager must make an objective assessment of the severity of the incident.
  • The further procedure must then be explained to the notifier. He or she must be informed that the person accused of harassment must be confronted with the allegations (principle of hearing both sides of a case).
  • The manager must keep minutes of the meeting, containing the following points:
  1. What actually happened?
  2. When did it happen?
  3. In what connection (how and where it happened)?
  4. Were there other persons present? If so, who?
  5. What was the notifier’s experience of the harassment?
  6. Did the notifier make his or her feelings known to the person alleged to be guilty of harassment?
  • Check out the expectations of the notifier:
  1. What does the notifier wish the report to lead to?
  2. What can the employer do for the notifier while the matter is being investigated?

Meeting with the person being accused of harassment

  • Within a week, the manager must hold a meeting with the person being accused of harassment. The purpose of the meeting is to hear his or her version of the matter. Inform that the accused may be accompanied by a safety representative.
  • The person concerned has a right to know who has made the allegations and what incident(s) the claim is based on.
  • The manager must keep minutes of the meeting, containing the following points:
  1. What is your version of the alleged incident?
  2. In what connection did it occur (how and where did it take place)?
  3. Were there other persons present?
  4. What was your experience of the alleged incident(s)?
  5. If there is agreement that the incident(s) occurred:
    - Were you aware that the notifier or the party involved found the situation to be unpleasant or offensive?
  • The manager must explain the further procedure is and how it will be followed up.

 

The further procedure

Following meetings with both parties, the manager must consider seeking the advice of his or her immediate superior and/or the occupational health service.

  • If either or both of the parties have disclosed witnesses, these should be summoned to meetings in order to clarify whether they have witnessed the alleged incident(s). The manager must take minutes of such meetings.
  • If the parties are starting a dialogue, this must be in accordance with the wishes of the notifier.

The time frame

  • Managers must solve the matter without undue delay.
  • Inform both parties of the time frame.

Following completion of the investigation, the manager must assess the matter and conclude whether harassment has taken place. Possible outcomes may be any of the following:

  • That the allegation/report is found to be unreliable and the matter is closed.
  • That the notifier is found to have been subjected to harassment.

The manager must then consider a just reaction, which may be any of the following:

  • Written warning – the consequence of any recurrence of the harassment should be clearly stated in the warning
  • Deprivation of responsibility
  • Transfer to another unit at the workplace
  • Dismissal with notice
  • Summary dismissal/dismissal without notice

For dismissal with notice and summary dismissal the general objectivity requirements apply, as laid down in the provisions on dismissal with notice and summary dismissal in chapter 15 of the Working Environment Act.

If the employer finds the harassment to be so severe that it falls under the Penal Code, the employer must consider reporting the matter to the police.

  • The employer’s reaction must be proportional to the severity of the harassment.
  • The reaction and reasons must recorded/documented in writing and distributed to both parties.
  • Regardless of the outcome of the matter, a follow-up plan must be made for both parties.
  • The manager must ensure that the follow-up plan is implemented.
  • The manager should, in conversations with the involved parties, consider whether there is a need for changes in the employment relationship in order to safeguard a sound working environment.
  • The manager must consider evaluating the procedures in the systematic health, safety and environment (HSE) in order to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
  • All cases of harassment must be documented in the HSE database.