The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued a new report titled ‘Turning the tables: Ending sexual harassment at work’, which raises concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace. The Commission found that existing obligations and guidance for employers are not adequately protecting workers from sexual harassment. Currently, these are just recommendations; however, given the current climate, this could be one to watch.
The report sets out recommendations which aim to bring about changes in workplace culture, forcing employers to take on more responsibility for preventing harassment, to promote greater transparency surrounding harassment incidents and to strengthen the protection available for harassment victims by recommending new laws.
Key recommendations made by the Commission include:
• the introduction of a mandatory duty requiring employers to protect workers which, if breached, would constitute an unlawful act for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010;
• the production of a statutory code of practice that sets out the steps employers need to take to comply with the mandatory duty, with a possible 25% uplift in compensation when an employer breaches the code;
• the development of an online tool which facilitates the reporting of sexual harassment;
• the introduction of safeguards to restrict the use of confidentiality clauses to prevent disclosure of past acts of harassment;
• the collection of data from individuals across England, Scotland and Wales every three years to determine the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment at work in order to publish a report and action plan;
• the extension of limitation periods for bringing a sexual harassment claim to six months from the latest of (1) the act; (2) the last in a series of acts; or (3) the exhaustion of any internal complaints procedure;
• an increase in employers transparency by ensuring they publish their sexual harassment policy on their external website, along with the steps being taken to implement and evaluate it; and
• ACAS targeted sexual harassment training for managers, staff and workplace sexual harassment ‘champions’.
It remains to be seen how the Government will respond to these recommendations; however, companies should ensure that they have an easily accessible anti-harassment policy in place, clear reporting procedures and trained staff that are able to correctly handle reports of harassment. These measures will help to ensure that both businesses and employees are protected.