Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace: from social media hashtag to legal duty in 7 years

The #metoo movement that started in 2017 raised awareness of sexual harassment. The Government acknowledged in 2021 that the existing reactive provisions within the Equality Act 2010 were not sufficient to protect people from sexual harassment in the workplace. It therefore adopted the EHRC recommendation to place a mandatory duty on all employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

This duty is expected to be implemented in October 2024, and businesses are encouraged to think now about how they will take steps to fulfil this duty, including:

  • Comprehensive Training programmes: equipping employees with the knowledge to foster a respectful work environment
  • Leadership messages: reinforcing the commitment to a harassment-free workplace through clear communication from senior leaders
  • Reporting mechanisms: encouraging a culture of transparency and support for reporting incidents

There are plenty of discussion points around the duty itself and also what the new legislation does not do:

  • The duty has been diluted from the proposed duty to “take all reasonable steps” to a duty to “take reasonable steps”
  • Whilst harassment on grounds of any protected characteristic is unlawful, sexual harassment is the only type to be covered by this proactive duty of prevention
  • The Government has decided not to extend the duty to preventing sexual harassment by third parties (eg customers)

Our recent Employment Survey indicated that Diversity and Inclusion remained high on the priority list for UK businesses. This new duty is one of the issues we will be discussing at our Diversity & Inclusion Webinar on 25 June 2024. Sign up here

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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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