Earlier this year the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) published a report with five main aims to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace: 1) employers to put sexual harassment at the top of their agenda, 2) regulators to take more active roles, 3) improvement of enforcement processes, 4) clean up use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), 5) robust data. In response the government has confirmed that a new statutory Code of Practice will be developed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR) to guide employers on their responsibilities.
Twelve main actions have been announced by the government that will be incorporated to make workplace harassment a priority.
- Introduce the Code on sexual harassment which will be developed by the EHCR under its Equality Act 2006 powers.
- Run awareness raising work with ACAS, EHRC and employers.
- Commission a survey to gather regular data on the prevalence of sexual harassment.
- Consult on the use of NDAs in sexual harassment situations (i.e. confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements).
- Consult on the evidence base for a new legal duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Consult on strengthening and clarifying the laws on third-party harassment in the workplace.
- Consult on whether further legal protections, including protections not limited to harassment under the Equality Act 2010, are required for interns and volunteers.
- Consult to explore the evidence for extending employment tribunal time limits discrimination and harassment claims under Equality Act 2010.
- Ensure the public sector acts to tackle and prevent sexual harassment.
- Work with regulators for whom sexual harassment is particularly relevant to ensure they are taking appropriate action.
- Consider whether further learnings can be taken from the criminal justice system to use in the employment tribunal system, to ensure vulnerable claimants have appropriate protection when bringing a claim.
- Check the list of organisations who receive “whistleblowing” information includes the right bodies.
Introducing a Code of Practice places sexual harassment at the top of employer’s agenda since it creates rules employers are obliged to follow. The government have said they will consult on the need for further legal protections, which doesn’t necessarily mean there will be an improvement in enforcement proceedings, but it shows the government has listened to the report and is prepared to look further into the matter and take new measures if so required.
Given the focus on this area, the direction of travel is that it is likely that greater obligations will be placed on employers in this area. If you haven’t done so already, it would be worth spending some time considering what steps your organisation may need to take to ensure that it has the appropriate tools (including up to date policies) to deal with a sexual harassment issue. If we can help, please get in touch!