The Women and Equalities Committee has published a new report on sexual harassment in the workplace, with a five-point plan to address the issue.
The report calls for sexual harassment to be put at the top of the agenda by employers and regulators, with mandatory requirements, sanctions for breaches and proactive enforcement measures to be introduced. It suggests that employers are given a new statutory duty to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment and victimisation, alongside a statutory code of practice to set out how the duty will work.
The report also suggests that regulators should take a more active role in tackling sexual harassment and that the enforcement process should be improved to make it easier for individuals to raise concerns and to bring a claim in the employment tribunal. In particular, it suggests that the time limit for bringing a claim for sexual harassment should be increased to six months, punitive damages should be available and a discretionary uplift of 25% where there has been a breach of the statutory code. There should also be a presumption that the employer should be required to pay the claimant’s legal costs, if it loses a claim for sexual harassment.
In addition, the report calls for the use of non-disclosure agreements to be better controlled and regulated, including the use of standard, approved confidentiality clauses. This would have an impact on the use of settlement agreements in cases where sexual harassment is alleged. Finally, the report suggests the collection of robust data on the incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace and how it was dealt with.
The Government has yet to publish any response to the Committee’s report and it remains to be seen whether any of these proposals will be taken forward.