Sexual Harassment at Work – How to Start Fixing the Problem

Morrish SolicitorsEmployment, Site News

Last year, a BBC survey revealed that half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work. And with momentum generated by the #MeToo campaign, sexual harassment has been in the spotlight in recent months.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has now published its new report, on 27 March 2018.

The report shares evidence gathered from around 1,000 individuals and employers between December 2017 and February 2018 and shows that some employers simply aren’t protecting their employees from sexual harassment at work.

The report looks at how sexual harassment is dealt with by employers and recommends several improvements.

The report found a lack of consistent, effective action on the part of too many employers and the EHRC is now calling on the UK Government to show clear leadership and implement their recommendations to eliminate sexual harassment in every British workplace.

So how do they propose that sexual harassment at work is eliminated? They suggest that through transforming workplace cultures, promoting transparency and strengthening legal protections, sexual harassment can be eliminated.

The key recommendations made by the EHRC for the government to consider are as follows:

  • Introduce a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work, with employment tribunals to have the power to apply an uplift to compensation in harassment claims of up to 25% for a breach of any mandatory element of this new code;
  • Employers should all have and should publish their sexual harassment policy in an easily accessible part of their external website;
  • Legislation should be introduced making any contractual clause which prevents disclosure of future acts of discrimination, harassment or victimisation void;
  • Safeguards should be implemented to restrict the use of confidentiality clauses preventing disclosure of past acts of harassment;
  • The limitation period for harassment claims in an employment tribunal should be extended to six months from three;
  • If a claim is brought out of time, the burden of proof should be on the employer to state why the deadline should not be extended, rather than on the employee as it is currently;
  • Interim relief provisions for harassment and victimisation claims should be introduced, similar to those for protected disclosure dismissals;
  • Employment tribunals should be allowed to make recommendations about the wider workforce, rather than solely about the employer’s treatment of the individual claimant;
  • Reinstatement of protection from third party harassment though without the requirement to show two previous incidents;
  • Re-introduction of the statutory questionnaire.

The Government has responded to the EHRC’s report by condemning all forms of workplace harassment and promising to keep matters under review.

But will they fix the problem? Or at least try? The recommendations above are a good start however the Government is rather busy at the moment and the EHRC’s recommendations may tumble down the list of priorities. It’s therefore doubtful whether any regulation or other action will come from this report.

Hannah Boynes – Solicitor
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