Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – What Should Employers Do?
Sexual harassment survey revels shocking statistics
In the context of scandals like Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, it’s more important than ever to change workplace culture. The shocking extent of the problem was revealed by a TUC survey, carried out by YouGov in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project. It showed that more than half of women had experienced sexual harassment at work.
The Women and Equalities Committee – who are appointed by the House of Commons to examine government policy – have made these recommendations about how the problem should be tackled.
Report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace by the Women and Equalities Committee
The committee have produced a detailed report, aiming to ensure sexual harassment is prevented and tackled by both the government and employers. In summary, they call on them to:
- Put sexual harassment at the top of the agenda
- Employers should have a mandatory duty to protect their employees from sexual harassment in the workplace – enforced by the EHRC and punished by fines if breached
- The public sector should set a good example, leading the way in preventing and tackling sexual harassment – through risk assessments and taking active steps to protect workers
- Reintroduce third party harassment. Employers should be held liable if they fail to take reasonable steps to protect their workers from harassment by third parties
- Extending the harassment protections of the Equality Act 2010 to interns and volunteers
- Require regulators to take a more active role
- Regulators, such as the Health and Safety Executive, must take a more active role in preventing sexual harassment. All regulators should have an action plan in place
- Make enforcement processes work better for employees
- Government should extend the time limit for bringing a sexual harassment claim to six months, and the time limit should be paused until the employers’ internal complaint processes are completed
- It should be made easier for Tribunals to award legal costs to successful Claimants in sexual harassment cases, by creating a presumption that if an employer loses a sexual harassment case they have to pay the employee’s legal costs
- Clean up the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)
- Only standard, government-approved confidentiality clauses should be used in settlement agreements. They must include clear, plain English wording and be easily accessible
- Proposing the use of a non-approved confidentiality clause will be a professional disciplinary offence for lawyers. It could even be a criminal offence in certain circumstances – for both the lawyer and the employer – particularly if designed to prevent a whistleblowing disclosure
- Collect robust data
- The government should regularly collect data on sexual harassment in the workplace, such as large-scale surveys, in order to review and respond to the effect of actions being taken
At present these are only recommendations and they will need to go through consultation before they become government policy but they show that sexual harassment at work remains very much in the public spotlight and they demonstrate to employers what proposals the government could consider to address this issue in future.
How can Freeths help your business?
Workplace sexual harassment is not new, but we want to be at the forefront of stamping it out for good. Freeths recently held “Savings, Safeguarding and Scrutiny” HR seminars across a number of locations up and down the country – offering invaluable advice for businesses to ensure that they are in the best place to prevent sexual harassment and protect against reputational damage.
We offered specialist guidance on bullying and harassment, including:
- Policies businesses should have in place
- The rights of the accuser and accused
- Investigating historic complaints
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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