Turning the tables: Ending sexual harassment at work

6 April, 2018
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have published a new report on sexual harassment in the work place.  EHRC have found that whilst employers have a duty to protect their employees from sexual harassment in the workplace this often isn’t happening.  The EHRC consider that “too many people are being silenced by toxic workplace cultures and very real fears of victimisation”.

The EHRC are therefore calling on the UK Government to show “clear leadership and implement their recommendations to eliminate sexual harassment in every British workplace through transforming workplace cultures, promoting transparency and strengthening legal protections.”

The EHRC found that the most common perpetrator of harassment was a senior colleague and just under a quarter reported being harassed by customers, clients or service users. 

Whilst the EHRC found that many employers had in place policies that dealt with sexual harassment it was often covered in a wide policy which made a minimal reference to sexual harassment.  Around two thirds of employers responded that they trained line managers on harassment but this fell to about half in relation to their wider workforce.  It was also found that very few employers provided information for customers or service users on appropriate behaviours towards their staff.

The EHRC set out several recommendations in their report including:

  • a mandatory duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment and victimisation with a breach of that duty constituting an unlawful act for the purposes of the Equality Act 2006, enforceable by the Commission;
  • introduction of a statutory code of conduct, with tribunal discretion to increase compensation by up to 25% where the code is not followed;
  • an extension of the limitation period for bringing a sexual harassment claim to 6 months;
  • legislation to render void contractual clauses prohibiting disclosure of future acts of discrimination, harassment or victimisation;
  • restrictions on use of confidentiality clauses to prevent disclosure of past acts of harassment and reinstatement of protection from third party harassment; and
  • the reintroduction of a statutory questionnaire.

We have seen an increase in claims and grievances being raised regarding sexual harassment in the workplace with the media coverage giving employees more confidence to come forward.  It is important to take a look at your work place culture and consider whether you should be taking any steps to improve it.  Is it time to train your line managers and wider workforce? 

Promote transparency with clear policies and processes in place so that individuals know that they can report such incidents and that they will be taken seriously and not swept under the carpet.

You can read the full report here.  For updates from us and the latest Employment news follow us on Twitter @CrippsEmpLaw