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Should Employers Be Duty-Bound to Prevent Sexual Harassment?

on Friday, 03 August 2018.

Yes, says the Women and Equalities Committee in their report following a six month inquiry investigating sexual harassment in the workplace.

The report acknowledges that employers and regulators are failing to address sexual harassment in the workplace with sufficient rigour. The Committee believes there should be mandatory requirements, sanctions for breaches and proactive enforcement such as those that exist elsewhere in the realms of data protection and money laundering.

The Committee is urging the government to put sexual harassment on the top of the agenda in light of the high profile #metoo campaign, research by 'ComRes' on behalf of the BBC, and current media attention.

Five Recommendations

The report highlights five key priorities in an attempt to change workplace cultures and attitudes in relation to sexual harassment at work.

  1. The Committee is asking the government to introduce a new duty on employers to prevent harassment. It wants the same legal protections for interns and volunteers as other workers.

  2. The Committee want regulators to take a more active role in addressing sexual harassment in their sectors, including setting out the actions they will take to help tackle the problem and enforcement action they will take. The report suggests that regulators should also set out the sanctions for perpetrators of sexual harassment in their sectors.

  3. The report supports the Equality and Human Rights Commission recommendations that the government should introduce a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment, setting out what employers should do to tackle sexual harassment in their workplaces. In relation to tribunals, the recommendation is that the time limit for bringing a sexual harassment claim is extended to six months, with the time being stopped while internal processes and investigations are undertaken.

  4. The Committee criticised the use of the NDAs, seeing them as a tool to prevent victims from being able to report sexual harassment. They call out for more regulation to ensure they aren't misused. The Committee recommends the introduction of legislation requiring legal professionals to use standard form confidentiality clauses.

  5. The report urges the government to collect robust data on workplace sexual harassment and statistics for sexual harassment employment tribunal claims, in order to determine the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Best Practice

It remains to be seen which of the recommendations the government will pursue. We will keep you updated with any further updates from the enquiry in due course.

In the meantime, we recommend that employers ensure existing policies (for example, staff codes of conduct, equal opportunities and dignity and work policies) are up to date and consider training for staff to raise awareness of what constitutes sexual harassment.

For more information, please contact Eleanor Boyd in the Employment Law team on 020 7665 0940.

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