Designation of a Harassment Officer: a new measure to fight against sexual harassment and sexist attitudes

France

Acknowledging the need for intensifying the fight against sexual harassment and sexist attitudes, French law has been amended to strengthen anti sexual harassment measures.

Designation of a Harassment Officer by the employer

Since January 1st, 2019, companies with more than 250 employees must designate a Harassment Officer whose role is to direct, inform and support employees in fighting against sexual harassment and sexist attitudes.

Role of the Harassment Officer

The Labour Code only mentions that the Harassment Officer is supposed to direct, inform and support employees in the fight against sexual harassment.

The role and duties of this Harassment Officer are thus pretty vague at this stage.

However, in its practical guide (available in French), the Government suggested the following role for the Harassment Officer:

  • Introduce awareness-raising measures and training measures for employees and managers,
  • Direct employees towards competent authorities (Labour Inspector, Labour doctor, official Defender of the rights),
  • Implement internal procedures in order to encourage the reporting and processing of a situation of sexual harassment or sexist attitudes,
  • Conduct internal investigations after the reporting of a situation of sexual harassment or sexist attitude.

Who can be designated as a Harassment Officer?

The Harassment Officer should necessarily be an employee of the company. To execute his duties, he should also have the right skills to deal with sexual harassment-related issues. This is the reason why in practice it is likely that the role of the Harassment Officer will be executed by the HR manager.

So far, French law does not provide for any sanction if a Harassment Officer is not designated in the company. However, non-compliance may be used to demonstrate that employer breached its duty of care.

Designation of a Harassment Officer by the Social and Economic Committee

When there is a Social and Economic Committee in the company (the establishment of such a SEC applies in companies with more than 11 employees), it has to designate a Harassment Officer, even in companies with less than 250 employees.

The Harassment Officer is designated among the members of the Committee. Just as the other members of the SEC, the Harassment Officer will benefit from the necessary training in terms of health, security and working conditions to execute his duties.

This Harassment Officer will be an additional contact person for employees facing a situation of sexual harassment or sexist behaviours.