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Report on sexual harassment in the workplace from the Equalities & Human Rights Commission

31st March 2018

A number of serious concerns have been raised in the latest report on sexual harassment from the Equalities & Human Rights Commission. The report, entitled “Turning the tables: ending sexual harassment at work” has been published this month.

The report addressed evidence about sexual harassment in the workplace gathered from roughly 700 individuals and 200 employers. The evidence was gathered in the period from December 2017 and February 2018. Details of experiences of individuals and employers are found in the report, together with a number of recommendations. The report looks at how sexual harassment is dealt with by employers and uses the evidence from individuals who have experienced sexual harassment at work to recommend improvements.

There are a number of striking points made in the report. At page 2 the observation is made that:-

we uncovered the shocking and stark reality of individuals whose careers and mental health have been damaged by corrosive cultures which silence individuals and normalise harassment.”

Rather alarmingly, it went on to add that:-

We also found a lack of consistent, effective action on the part of too many employers.

Sadly, the evidence from individuals appeared to indicate that the most common perpetrator of harassment was a senior colleague. But the perpetrators were by no means all work colleagues, as just under a quarter reported being harassed by customers, clients or service users. There is no doubt that, for many employers, protecting staff from harassment at the hands of customers or clients is particularly challenging, as the business will usually want to keep the client’s business, but equally owes a legal duty to protect its staff from that type of behaviour. In the report it was noted that complaints of this source of harassment were “dealt with particularly poorly.” (page 5). It was noted that the individuals the reported harassment from customers was met with a lack of management support, and many of the individuals affected noted that they had no option but to put up with it if they wanted to continue in their job.

A significant point that was observed was around half of the individuals that submitted information to the report stated that they had not reported their experience of harassment to anyone in the workplace, and they were too intimidated to report the harassment.

Various recommendations are made in the report, under ten headlines in a call to Government to take action. The most notable recommendations include:-

- The introduction of a statutory code of practice, with the Employment Tribunal   having a discretion to increase compensation by up to 25% where the code is not followed, and;

  • Legislation to render void contractual clauses prohibiting disclosure of past acts of harassment;

  • The extension of the time limit for bringing a claim of sexual harassment from 3 months to 6 months;

  • A shift in the burden of proof to the employer to show why time should not be extended for any out of time claim where the claimant establishes the reason for the delay;

  • Restoration of the power to make recommendations to the employer’s business beyond the specific case in question;

  • The re-introduction of the statutory questionnaire.  

  • Of particular interest to many is the recommendation of the re-instatement of the protection from third party harassment (such as from customers or clients)

    It would be unrealistic to assume that the all the recommendations in the report will be adopted by the Government, or will lead to real change. However, the report does highlight the fact that much still needs to be done to combat harassment in the workplace, and to improve the willingness and ability of businesses and their managers to address this issue and take the appropriate steps to deal with each incident and limit the risk of future incidents. The report does list a number of issues that many employers still need to address, and it recommends the introduction of a range of policies and procedures that even small employers could manage.

    At Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd we have experience in advising employers about introducing relevant policies and procedures to combat harassment in the workplace, and can provide training to managers to assist them in using such procedures. In addition, we can help individuals enforce their rights in relation to incidents of harassment.

    If you need any further advice on any matter raised in this article do not hesitate to contact us at Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd.

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