Committee calls for duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
25 July 2018
The Women and Equalities Committee launched an enquiry earlier this year, the findings of which have now been published with various recommendations including to introduce a duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
The report from this enquiry on 'Sexual harassment in the workplace' is a call to action for the Government asking it to put sexual harassment at the top of the agenda, raise awareness, make enforcement and reporting processes work better, require regulators to take a more active role, clean up the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment, and collect better data about the extent and nature of the problem.
In October 2017, allegations about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry began to appear in the media in the US and the UK. Many of these allegations concerned celebrities and other high-profile figures, but the stories sparked a mass movement of women from all walks of life and in many different fields of work sharing their own experiences of being sexually harassed in the workplace or elsewhere. Allegations of sexual harassment at Westminster were among those that emerged. The #MeToo movement put sexual harassment at the top of the news agenda as it became impossible to ignore how widespread, even commonplace, these experiences are.
In the wake of #MeToo, a wide range of employers found themselves scrambling to respond to allegations of sexual harassment in their organisations or sectors. The Commission’s concern is to ensure that, as the news cycle inevitably moves on, the urgency of action by employers and by the Government to tackle workplace sexual harassment does not wane.
In February 2018 the Committee decided to launch this inquiry, on workplaces, as a way to harness the momentum of #MeToo - to produce practical recommendations for change.
The recommendations in the report are aimed at ensuring that employers and those who regulate them maintain a focus on this issue even when they are not in the spotlight.
The Committee is calling on the Government to:
a) Put sexual harassment at the top of the agenda, by:
- Introducing a new duty on employers to prevent harassment, supported by a statutory code of practice outlining the steps they can take to do this
- Ensuring that interns, volunteers and those harassed by third parties have access to the same legal protections and remedies as their workplace colleagues
b) Require regulators to take a more active role, starting by:
- Setting out the actions they will take to help tackle this problem, including the enforcement action they will take
- Making it clear to those they regulate that sexual harassment is a breach of professional standards and a reportable offence with sanctions
c) Make enforcement processes work better for employees by:
- Setting out in the statutory code of practice what employers should do to tackle sexual harassment
- Reducing barriers to taking forward tribunal cases, including by extending the time limit for submitting a claim, introducing punitive damages for employers and reducing cost risks for employees
d) Clean up the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), including by:
- Requiring the use of standard, plain English confidentiality clauses, which set out the meaning, limit and effect of the clause, and making it an offence to misuse such clauses
- Extending whistleblowing protections so that disclosures to the police
- Regulators such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission are protected
e) Collect robust data on the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace and on the number of employment tribunal claims involving complaints of harassment of a sexual nature.
The full report is available here.