Sex discrimination (including sexual harassment) legislation has been a prominent part of equalities law in the UK for decades. However, research by the CIPD in 2020 shows sexual harassment is still a serious problem in some UK workplaces, with 4% of employees saying they had been sexually harassed at work over the past three years.
Most employers do have a positive approach to gender equality, but evidently there are still many organisations that are not encouraging inclusive workplaces. If the working culture does not promote gender equality, and women or men, are afraid to speak up and challenge inappropriate behaviour, this could have very serious consequences for the business as well as, of course, for the individual recipient of such behaviours. Any form of discrimination or harassment is completely unacceptable from a moral and a legal standpoint, in society in general as well as in the workplace. Employers are also at risk of losing valuable talent by default if they do not treat complaints of harassment seriously and the culture is one where these kinds of issues are ignored or brushed aside.
The prominence of the #MeToo Movement in recent years, which stands against sexual harassment and assault, advocating women to speak out about sexual harassment and abuse, has fueled action to be taken by governments and employers to become more accountable for this kind of abuse within the workplace.
The government’s legislative response to #MeToo has been laid out meaning employers could be legally required to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment at work under the new proposal.
The package of measures will include a new preventative duty on employers, a duty to protect employees from sexual harassment by third parties such as customers, criminalisation of street harassment and a statutory code of practice for employers on how to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. In addition, potentially extending the time allowed to bring a sexual harassment case to an employment tribunal from three to six months.
Whilst the details are yet to be confirmed as to the proactive duty on employers and the full impact for employers and employees is not yet defined, the initial reaction to these proposed measures for employers has, on the whole, been positively received, with the aim of all women feeling safe and without fear of harassment or violence, in the workplace or anywhere else.
We hope this proposal will create positive, more structured guidelines with regards to preventative actions that can be taken and help employers have a clear understanding of their responsibilities in stopping sexual harassment at work, particularly with the creation of a statutory code of practice and a clearly defined legal duty for employers.
Managing these situations of alleged harassment should they arise must be done carefully given their sensitive and potentially complex nature and would always advise seeking HR advice. If you would like advice or guidance on this, please get in touch and drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org