Employers face new legal duty to prevent sexual harassment

By Joanne Stronach Head of Employment & HR

The government is introducing a new Code of Practice that will place a legal duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The code will contain several measures including protections for volunteers and interns.

The government says it wants to introduce the code so employers better understand their legal responsibilities to protect their staff. The new measures will be put to public consultation.

The Government Equalities Office will look at how employers can introduce better systems to prevent and address sexual harassment at work, and work with regulators to ensure they are taking action.

ComRes, in their 2017 research for the BBC, found that 40% of women and 18% of men have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work at some point.

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “It continues to disappoint me that some women still face discrimination and harassment at work.

“One part of this is the minority of cases where non-disclosure agreements are used unethically, and employees may not be aware of their protections and rights. We will be consulting on these.”

The government will also explore the evidence for extending the time limits to bring any workplace discrimination and harassment case under the Equality Act 2010 to an employment tribunal.

The government is still developing next steps on this package but has already said that it will:

  • Introduce a new statutory code of practice on sexual harassment, which will be developed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission under its Equality Act 2006 powers
  • Run awareness raising work with Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), Equality and Human Rights Committee (EHRC) and employers
  • Commission a survey to gather regular data on the prevalence of sexual harassment
  • Consult on non-disclosure agreements
  • Consult on the evidence base for a new legal duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Consult on strengthening and clarifying the laws on third party harassment in the workplace
  • Consult on whether further legal protections are required for interns and volunteers
  • Consult to explore the evidence for extending employment tribunal time limits for Equality Act 2010 cases
  • Ensure the public sector takes action to tackle and prevent sexual harassment
  • Work with regulators for whom sexual harassment is particularly relevant to ensure they are taking appropriate action
  • Consider whether further learnings can be taken from the criminal justice system to use in the employment tribunal system, to ensure vulnerable claimants have appropriate protection
  • Check that the list of organisations who can receive ‘whistleblowing’ information includes the right bodies.

We shall keep clients informed of developments.

Please contact Joanne on 01228 516666 if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law; alternatively click here to email her directly.

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