How to end sexual harassment at work? EHRC report on turning the tables
Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. Under the Equality Act, employers are liable for acts of sexual harassment by one employee towards another unless they can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent it.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published a report, “Turning the tables: ending sexual harassment at work”, sharing evidence about sexual harassment in the workplace gathered from around 1,000 individuals and employers, and making recommendations about how to end sexual harassment at work.
The EHRC states that although employers should protect their employees from sexual harassment at work, the evidence they have gathered shows that this is not happening. It calls for action in transforming workplace cultures, promoting transparency and strengthening legal protections to turn the tables in British workplaces, putting the onus on employers to prevent and resolve harassment.
The EHRC’s recommendations include:
- The introduction of a mandatory duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment and victimisation in the workplace, breach of which should constitute an unlawful act for the purposes of the Equality Act, which would be enforceable by the EHCR;
- The introduction of a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work, specifying the steps that employers should take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment; and giving employment tribunals the power to apply an uplift to compensation in harassment claims of up to 25%, at their discretion, for breach of mandatory elements of the code;
- Development by ACAS of targeted sexual harassment training for managers, staff and workplace sexual harassment ‘champions’;
- Development by the Government of an online tool which facilitates the reporting of sexual harassment at work;
- Collection of data by the Government from individuals every three years to determine the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment at work;
- Publication by employers of their sexual harassment policy and the steps being taken to implement and evaluate it in an easily accessible part of their external website;
- Introduction of legislation making any contractual clause which prevents disclosure of future acts of discrimination, harassment or victimisation void; and closer regulation of confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements after an allegation of harassment has been made, as these clauses may prevent people from speaking out about their experiences and reduce the likelihood of systemic problems being tackled;
- Increasing the limitation period for individuals to bring harassment claims in an employment tribunal to six months from the latest of the date of the act of harassment, the last in a series of incidents of harassment, or the exhaustion of any internal complaints procedure.
Following a number of high profile sexual harassment scandals recently, the issue of how to protect and promote equality has been placed under the public spotlight.
Employers must remember that they should, as always, take reasonable steps to protect employees from harassment in the workplace and could face potentially costly claims in the Employment Tribunal if they fail to do so. Employers should have in place Anti-Harassment or Equal Opportunities Policies, but these are of limited value if they are not understood or enforced. Employees should be made aware of how to report allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace and training should be provided to employees on how to deal with or report any allegations that they become aware of. Policies and training should be reviewed and updated regularly.
12 April 2018
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