A new statutory Code of Practice will be developed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in order to guide employers on their legal responsibilities regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. This was one of 12 actions recently announced by the UK government as it makes confronting workplace harassment a priority.
On 18 December, the UK Government Equalities Office published a package of 12 announcements regarding its intention to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. Most significant was the announcement to introduce a new statutory Code of Practice (Code) to tackle sexual harassment at work; the Code will be drawn up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and is intended to guide employers on their legal responsibilities.
The announcements are in response to the July 2018 recommendations of the UK Women and Equalities Committee, which called for (1) putting sexual harassment at the top of the UK government’s agenda; (2) requiring regulators to take a more active role in tackling harassment; (3) making enforcement processes work better for employees by setting them out in the Code; (4) cleaning up the use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) used in employment contracts and settlement agreements; and (5) collecting robust data on sexual harassment in the workplace at regular intervals.
The UK government has announced its intention to take the following 12 actions:
- Introduce the Code on sexual harassment, which will be developed by the EHRC under its Equality Act 2006 powers.
- Run awareness-raising work with the UK Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), EHRC, and employers.
- Commission a survey to gather regular data on the prevalence of sexual harassment.
- Consult on NDAs (see our LawFlash for further details on the recent inquiry launched on the wider use of NDAs in harassment and discrimination claims).
- 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 for discrimination and harassment claims under the Equality Act 2010.
- Ensure the public sector takes action 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.
- Check that the list of organisations who can receive “whistleblowing” information includes the right bodies.