Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Following a number of high profile complaints and the #metoo movement, sexual harassment in the workplace is a hot topic.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued a new Report entitled “Turning the Tables: Ending Sexual Harassment at Work”.  The Report raises concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace and found that the existing framework of obligations and guidance for employers are not (in practice) protecting workers from sexual harassment.  Although the Report only contains recommendations in the current climate, those recommendations may well be adopted.

The Report sets out recommendations which aim to facilitate change in workplace culture by forcing employers to take more responsibility for preventing harassment and to promote greater transparency surrounding harassment incidents and to strengthen protection available for harassment victims by recommending new laws.

The key recommendations include:-

  1. The introduction of a mandatory duty requiring employers to protect workers which, if breached, would constitute an unlawful act for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010;
  2. The production of a statutory code of practice that sets out the steps that employers need to take to comply with the mandatory duty, with a possible 25% uplift in compensation when an employer breaches the code;
  3. The development of an online tool that facilitates the reporting of sexual harassment;
  4. The introduction of safeguards to restrict the use of confidentiality clauses to prevent disclosure of past acts of harassment. 

The Report goes on to recommend a further collection of data to properly understand what is happening in the workplace, an extension of time for people to bring claims for sexual harassment, the requirement on employers that they publish their Sexual Harassment Policies on their websites, and sexual harassment training for managers, staff and workplace sexual harassment “champions”.

The advice to any company in this climate is to have an Anti-Harassment Policy in place, clear reporting procedures and trained staff so that reports of harassment are handled correctly.  Those steps will help protect businesses and their staff. For advice about any employment related issues please contact  Anna Illingworth, Head of Employment and Dispute Resolution,