Following an enquiry earlier this year, the Women and Equalities Committee has now published its report into sexual harassment in the workplace (the “Report”).
In the wake of the #MeToo campaign and the significant press coverage on this issue, the Report highlights that “throughout the world of work, in spite of the law, sexual harassment is an everyday, common occurrence”. It finds that 40% of women and 18% of men have experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace.
The Report puts forward a number of recommendations for changes to the law and calls on the government, regulators and employers to take a much more proactive role in dealing with and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
We have summarised the key recommendations from the Report here:
- Put sexual harassment at the top of the agenda
– There should be a new mandatory duty to protect workers from sexual harassment, supported by a statutory code of practice so that employers have a clear idea of what is expected of them.
– Provisions on third party harassment (which were abolished in 2013) should be re-introduced into the Equality Act 2010.
– Volunteers and interns should receive the same protection from sexual harassment as other workers.
- Require regulators to take a more active role
– The government should require regulators to formulate action plans setting out how they will ensure that the employers they regulate protect workers from sexual harassment.
– There should be new standards and sanctions affecting regulated persons and businesses operating in the financial services sector.
- Make enforcement processes work better for employees
– The new statutory code of practice (referred to above) should clarify what employees should do when faced with harassment, including guidance on reporting systems and access to support.
– Employment Tribunals should have a discretion to apply a 25% uplift in harassment claims where there has been a breach of the new statutory code.
– There should be a six month time limit for bringing a sexual harassment claim.
– The statutory questionnaire (which was abolished in 2015) should be re-introduced.
- Clean up the use of non-disclosure agreements
– There should be new legislation requiring the use of standard, approved confidentiality clauses.
– The definition of “protected disclosure” for the purposes of whistleblowing legislation should be amended to include disclosures of sexual harassment to the police and regulators.
– There should be an offence for an employer to propose a confidentiality clause which prevents or limits the making of a protected disclosure or the disclosure of a criminal offence.
Whilst some of these recommendations are sensible and are likely to be welcomed, employers may be concerned about the increased burden that could be placed upon them – particularly if the government chooses to introduce the new mandatory duty.
It remains to be seen what, if any, of the Report’s recommendations will be taken forward by the government.
It also remains to be seen what impact the Report may have on sexual harassment affecting the gig economy given that it found that workers with irregular, flexible or precarious employment status are more likely to experience sexual harassment.