Sexual harassment outside of work hours still counts as something that is related to the workplace, if it is between two employees. Sexual harassment outside of work can take place in any setting, including at the group dinner outing, online, at a bar or at home. Unwelcome sexual advances or sexual jokes don’t need to happen during work hours for them to be considered sexual harassment between colleagues. This means that ther employer is responsible for taking action and investigating the issue. 

Examples of sexual harassment outside of work hours 

The nature of sexual harassment does not change if the employee is working or they’re relaxing after a tiring workday. However, the colleague committing sexual harassment outside of work hours may present themselves as being more casual and disguise the harassment as them being friendly. They could: 

  • Make sexual phone calls send sexual emails or texts 
  • Make sexual jokes
  • Send sexual images 
  • Touch, fondle, or intimately hug a colleague 
  • Make sexual gestures 
  • Make unwanted request for sex
  • Try to coerce a colleague into going on a date 
  • Make suggestive comments 
  • Try to use a position to gain sexual favours  
  • Question a colleague about their personal sexual preferences 
  • Refuse to understand the word no as a complete sentence

Sexual harassment outside of work affects both men and women. In the last five years, one in three people has experienced some form of sexual harassment.

What does it mean for your workplace?

Sexual harassment outside of work can affect employees during work hours. It can cause:

An unsafe working environment: Employees don’t feel safe working with people who have tried to prey on them after work hours. They might avoid meeting with them, have cold body language when they’re around or try to avoid them all together. Employers need to look for changes in employee behaviour and try to ensure that everything is okay with them. The best way to get someone to report sexual harassment is to create a friendly, open and supportive workplace that reassures the victim that the company will take action. 

Low employee morale: If the person who committed the sexual harassment outside of work hours is a supervisor, an employee may be less likely to report it as they’re afraid of retaliation or not being believed. This can lead to low employee morale as they have to keep working with their harasser as their manager or supervisor while feeling negative about what occurred. The harasser may also try to make sexual advances during work hours – if they see that they get away with it, they could take it as a sign to continue. 

Negative impact on employee well-being: Sexual harassment outside of work can negatively impact the mental health of an employee. This means that they will need to take extra sick leave, they might not be focused and they might close off from the rest of the employees. This could be very damaging for the victim, as they are isolating themselves from others and they’re not seeking the help that they need. Frequent checkups on employees can start a conversation about how they are doing, if there are any issues they want to discuss and act as a reminder that they can always talk to someone if they need to.

Increased staff turnover: Sexual harassment can impact an employee in many ways and as they look for solutions to feel better, leaving the company may be the only one. An employee may choose to leave the company without reporting what happened, which can leave the organisation without a skilled individual and confused as to why they made that decision. Exit interviews can be the last resort to understanding what happened. Ask the employee if everything was okay during their time at the company, if something upsetting happened or what their reason is for leaving. 

As they might not be afraid of retaliation anymore, they could be willing to share details about the sexual harassment outside of work hours which can then start an investigation

sexual harassment outside of work

How do you deal with sexual harassment outside of work?

The reality is that you don’t see the harassment happening your workplace. The only way to know is for the victim to come forward and share what has been happening. Be open, listen to what the victim has to say, and look for ways to help them. Allegations of sexual harassment outside of work usually lead to an investigation, no matter where it took place.

Investigate: Investigations into sexual harassment outside of work hours may be harder to carry out as evidence may not be easy to collect. In the workplace, there could CCTV footage, witness statements or email exchanges. Sexual harassment outside of work could happen anywhere and may not be as easy to track. This shouldn’t discourage you from taking action, it is something you need to be aware of when starting an investigation. You know what to expect, that’s not going to be easy but it’s still necessary. Employees who are victims of harassment aren’t having an easy time, especially if the one who is harassing them is in a higher-level position than them. 

Make sure to start investigation as soon as possible. Swift action when it comes to investigations is essential for better results. If you want a fast investigation, it might be a good idea to consider a case management system. For example, our clients trust Polonious to help their team carry out an efficient and more cost-effective investigation.

Create a friendly culture: We have repeated this a few times already but we’d really want to stress that one of the best ways to get employees to come forward is to build a culture where they feel accepted, believed, listened to and valued. This is the most effective way to encourage employees to speak up and talk about problems that concern them. Employees will not report anything if they don’t trust you. They will hesitate, they will doubt your intentions and they won’t say anything until it’s too late. 

There are many downsides to bad work culture. If one employee is afraid to speak up, it’s likely that another employee will be afraid to speak up as well. This doesn’t benefit your workplace in any way. If you realise that employees don’t feel comfortable at your company, take the time to build an environment where they do. Make the commitment and start slowly; build a stronger environment by changing your policies, the way you conduct meetings and having more frequent conversations with employees. Meetings are not only necessary for work purposes; it is important to have catch-up meetings that are informal and focus on what’s been happening outside of work. 

Provide your employees with resources: Both the person making the complaint and the person being accused of sexual harassment will need support resources to help them. Remember: Without hard proof and a thorough process, it’s innocent until proven guilty. This is because if an employee is being accused of sexual harassment outside of work hours, it doesn’t mean that they did it. Inform both employees of their rights and explain to them what process will be followed. Keep them updated on any new changes and make sure that if they have any questions they can talk to their manager, supervisor or another individual who is informed of the case. 

If your company provides mental health resources, then show employees how to get help through those.

Communicate with both employees: Thank the victim for coming forward and reporting the harassment and reassure them that you’re going to look into it. Talk with the accused and explain the allegations they’re facing and what the next steps will be. They may need to be suspended until the investigation is finalised, if so they need to know whether the suspension will be paid or unpaid and how long they will be suspended for. Explain to them that until the investigation is finished, there won’t be any final decisions. Talk to them about what will follow if they’re proven ‘guilty’ or if they are proven ‘innocent’. In some cases, external government bodies may need to be involved in the case. 

Stress to both employees how important it is for the details of the investigation to be kept confidential. Neither of them should be talking to external parties except mental health professionals or close friends and family who can provide support to them. Beyond them, they shouldn’t be sharing any information as this can damage their reputation and jeopardise the success of the investigation.

Sexual harassment outside of work: You are still responsible

Just because the harassment didn’t take place during work hours it doesn’t mean that as an employer you aren’t responsible for looking into the incident. Talk to both parties, get as many details as possible and if needed, look for an experienced investigation team. Polonious has helped many investigation teams, both internal and external, with automating their tasks, improving their reporting mechanisms and providing them with a safe storage space for their evidence. We assist with reducing manual errors, cutting investigation costs and saving time. If you want to know how we can help your organisation with investigating sexual harassment outside of work, book a demo and we’ll be happy to show you.