The #MeToo campaign in social media has given rise to discussions on the frequency of sexual harassment throughout the world, and also in Finland.
As a result of the unprecedented media attention and changed attitudes, it is predictable that the number of claims related to harassment and inappropriate behaviour in the workplaces will increase in the short run. Employers should be prepared for such claims and situations where harassment or inappropriate behaviour is brought to discussion and to employer’s attention.
Employers have a statutory obligation to take care of the safety and health of their employees while at work by taking the necessary measures in order to protect them against sexual harassment and unwanted behaviour. Accordingly, employers shall continuously monitor the working environment and implement internal guidance on how to proceed with the reported harassment cases.
After becoming aware of the harassment or other inappropriate treatment of an employee, the employer has a statutory obligation to intervene in the situation. It is not clear, whether seeing a #MeToo posted by an employee in social media would create an obligation for the employer to ask whether the employee has experienced harassment in the workplace. In general, this would not alone constitute such obligation to the employer, as the harassment should be expressly reported to the employer on a more detailed level.
"The employer has a statutory obligation to intervene after becoming aware of the harassment or other inappropriate treatment of an employee."
The Finnish Employment legislation does not state, how employers should solve the reported harassment cases, as the necessary actions to be taken are determined on a case-by-case basis. It is important to train each superior in the required extent to face such situations in order to have an efficient knowledge and readiness on how to appropriately react to reported cases.
Suggested Action Plan After Becoming Aware Of Harassment:
1 Find out in an objective manner what has happened. Discuss with all the relevant employees involved.
2 Take immediately all necessary measures in order to stop the undesired behavior in the workplace. Contact your legal advisor, if necessary.
3 Do not forget to document in writing all discussions, possible warnings and instructions given to the employees.
It is important to discuss the situation with the suspected employee as well. From the perspective of the suspected employee, the situation may lead to a warning or even to termination of employment on individual grounds.
Next Steps and What to Keep in Mind
It is evident that many new harassment cases will be brought out into employers' attention in the short term and that the number of claims raised in the courts against employers in the matters related to sexual harassment will also increase. In addition to new cases, the employers should be prepared for older ‘#MeToo’ complaints brought into the discussion as a result of the current attention of the topic.
Employers should now:
- Open the discussion on sexual harassment in the workplace: encourage the employees to tell, if they have faced inappropriate behaviour at work in order to be able to solve such situations appropriately.
- Create and implement the missing internal guidelines regarding the behaviour at work: define what kind of behaviour is not appropriate and not accepted at work.
- Review and update the existing internal policies related to the next steps on how to proceed, when harassment or inappropriate behaviour is brought into employer's attention.