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Preventing sexual harassment

Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace26th Jul 2021

by Hugh Reid on 26th Jul 2021

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Banned By Law – Yet The Harassment Still Goes On

Sexual harassment in the workplace has been prohibited by law for decades – and yet this unacceptable conduct and its damaging effects continue.

More people – predominately women – now feel empowered to share their experiences. It shows that there is still a very real and worrying problem with sexual harassment at work, as well as in other settings.

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Everyone should be able to live and work without the fear of encountering violence or harassment. This is why the government has said it is committed to tackling sexual harassment in all its forms.

A consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace ran from 11 July 2019 to 2 October 2019. Some 21 months later, the government has now published its response.

Government Response To The Consultation 

The government plans to introduce a new positive duty for employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent workplace sexual harassment.

This new duty would be enforceable by both the Equality and Human Rights Commission and by individual employees. 

It could lead to employers being held liable if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent harassment in accordance with a statutory code of practice.

Most notably it would be enforceable after a sexual harassment incident – but also without the need for any actual incident to have taken place.

Words But No Action Yet

The government acknowledges that many of those who responded to the consultation supported a new duty to prevent harassment.

It believes that this would prompt employers to take positive steps.

But the government does not set out any details of the proposed new duties. And it said the changes would be introduced “when parliamentary time allows”.

Plans To Extend The Time Limit For Claims

There was also a proposal to extend the time limit for making claims under the Equality Act 2010 from three months to six months.

This was in view of the impact of trauma arising from sexual harassment – as well as the potential barrier to justice that the current three-month time limit could create (particularly in instances of pregnancy and maternity discrimination).

But again the government has not given any concrete response to this. Instead it has said it will “look closely” at this issue – whatever that may mean. 

Overall the government response is heavily caveated. It is therefore unlikely that any of the proposals put forward will happen anytime soon.

Have You Experienced Sexual Harassment In The Workplace?

Harassment can range from comments, pranks, unwelcome conduct, offensive emails or social media activity to threats, abuse and unpleasant physical behaviour.

Contact us immediately if you are the victim of this at work. We can help but there are strict time limits so it is important to act as quickly as possible.

Keep a detailed record of incidents. Record them on your mobile phone if possible as proof (but do not put yourself at risk of harm).

Speak discreetly with colleagues you can trust to see if they have also been affected – you may not be the only victim.

What Can Employers Do?

Employers have a legal duty to provide a workplace that is safe. They can be vicariously liable if an employee experiences harassment.

As an employer, how robust are your HR policies with regard to workplace discipline? When was the last time you reviewed these policies to ensure they are still current?

You should review your disciplinary procedures regularly to ensure they are sufficiently robust – but not too draconian so that they could expose you to other legal risks.

It pays to get legal advice from an employment law specialist.

Further Reading 

  • Are You Suffering Discrimination Due To Your Sexual Orientation Or Gender Reassignment? Read more…
  • Can I Sue My Employer If They’ve Gone Bust? Read more…

Get Expert Legal Help

Contact Coles Miller employment law solicitor Hugh Reid if you are:

  • an employee who has been treated unfairly at work
  • an employer facing a possible tribunal claim.

This document is not intended to constitute and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice on any specific matter. No liability for the accuracy of the content of this document, or the consequences of relying on it, is assumed by the author. If you seek further information, please contact Managing Partner Neil Andrews at Coles Miller Solicitors LLP.