The Women and Equalities Select Committee (the Committee) published its report into sexual harassment in the workplace on 25 July. Shortly before Christmas the government issued its response. While the government stresses that sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable, and some of the Committee's recommendations have been accepted, consultations will take place in relation to a number of the other proposals before a decision is taken about how to proceed. Some of the Committee's suggestions are not being pursued at all.
- The government has agreed to develop a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment, making the steps an employer should take to meet its legal responsibilities clear. There will be a consultation on whether there should be a mandatory duty on employers to prevent harassment, which the EHRC would have power to enforce.
- There will also be a consultation on strengthening and clarifying the law in relation to third-party harassment and on whether volunteers and interns need additional protection against harassment – although the government is wary of taking action that would reduce opportunities for volunteering/ internships.
- At this stage there are no plans either to allow tribunals to increase compensation to reflect a failure to comply with the new statutory code of practice or to extend the remedies available in a successful tribunal claim (for example by introducing punitive damages or a presumption of cost shifting). The government notes that the maximum penalty for aggravated breaches of a worker's rights is being increased to £20,000 as part of the "gig economy" reforms, although in practice relatively few such penalties have been issued.
- The government is not planning to increase the time limit for bringing sexual harassment claims specifically, but is intending to consult on extending employment tribunal time limits in discrimination claims generally from three to six months. However, it is not intending to reintroduce statutory questionnaires or wider tribunal powers to make recommendations.
- The response recognises concerns about the unethical use of non-disclosure / confidentiality agreements in relation to sexual harassment claims. There will be a consultation on the use of such agreements and about how any new requirements should be enforced.