The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have published new recommendations, ‘turning the tables: ending sexual harassment at work‘, having found that existing obligations and guidance for employers are not protecting workers from sexual harassment. This article provides a brief overview of the ECHR objectives and highlights some of the more notable recommendations.
The recommendations aim to change workplace culture with employers taking more responsibility for preventing harassment, promote greater transparency about incidents of harassment, and strengthen protection for harassment victims by recommending new laws.
To change workplace culture the EHRC endorses a ‘carrot and stick’ approach. The EHRC recommends that the UK government introduces a mandatory duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers. To enforce the seriousness of this, any breach of the mandatory duty should be made unlawful, suggests the EHRC. Proposals include that the UK government should introduce a statutory Code of Practice as well as training on sexual harassment . Further, if the mandatory elements are not implemented, Employment Tribunals should have the discretionary power to apply a 25 per cent uplift, for breach of the statutory code, similar to the current penalties for breach of the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance.
To promote transparency, the EHRC recommends data collection every three years to determine the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment at work. Additionally, they recommend non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses which prevent disclosure should be banned.
To strengthen protection, the EHRC recommends that the limitation period for harassment claims in an Employment Tribunal should be amended to six months from the latter date of: (1) the act of harassment; (2) the last in a series of incidents of harassment, or (3) the exhaustion of any internal complaints procedure. Moreover, interim relief should be available, on similar terms to that in force for protected disclosure dismissals.
It remains to be seen what the Government will make of these recommendations. However, the Women and Equalities Committee held an evidence session on 28 March 2018 on its inquiry into sexual harassment in workplaces, so it is certainly timely. This session focused on the use and possible abuse of non-disclosure agreements.