The Equality and Human Rights Commission Report, Turning the tables: Ending sexual harassment at work - What does this mean for you?

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19 April, 2018

In its March report, 'Turning the tables: Ending sexual harassment at work', the Equality and Human Rights Commission ("the Commission") summarised its findings and detailed its recommendations for employers following an investigation into sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Commission gathered evidence from around 1,000 individuals and employers between December 2017 and February 2018 to investigate individuals' experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace, and to consider steps that the Government, legal sector and employers could take to improve practice.

The investigation uncovered the "shocking and stark reality of individuals whose careers and mental and physical health have been damaged by corrosive cultures which silence individuals and normalise harassment." A "lack of consistent, effective action on the part of too many employers" was also reported and the Commission calls on the Government to "show clear leadership and implement our recommendations to eliminate sexual harassment in every British workplace, through transforming workplace cultures, promoting transparency and strengthening legal protections". The Commission identified the need to shift from the current situation where individuals risk their jobs and health to report, to placing the onus on employers to effectively prevent and resolve harassment.

The Commission concluded that the existing obligations and guidance for employers are not sufficient to protect workers and there is a real need to change workplace culture with employers taking more responsibility. The need for greater transparency and strengthened protection was also identified.

The Commission is a statutory non-departmental public body established by the Equality Act 2006. It operates independently in an advisory capacity, seeking to effect change through research and lobbying to pressure the Government to legislate in accordance with its findings. As such, the report itself is advisory only and has no legal effect. Areas that the Commission has earmarked for change often receive attention and action from legislators, however, and the reports often act as a prior indicator of coming change in the areas they cover.

The recommendations made by the Commission address the identified need to change workplace culture, promote transparency and strengthen victim protection.

In summary, the Commission recommended:

  • The introduction of a mandatory duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment and victimisation.
  • The introduction of a Statutory Code of Practice on sexual harassment at work specifying the steps that employers should take to prevent and respond to harassment, and that the Employment Tribunal should have the discretion to apply an uplift of up to 25% to compensation for breach of the Code.
  • Targeted sexual harassment training for managers, staff and those likely to be involved in dealing with related matters developed by Acas.
  • The development of an online tool by the Government facilitating the reporting of harassment as technology should be used to address the significant barriers to raising such issues and encourage people to report.
  • The collection of data by the Government from individuals across England, Wales and Scotland every three years to determine the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment at work.
  • Employers should display their sexual harassment policy on their external website along with steps being taken to implement and evaluate it. As part of this, the employer should ensure the policy complies with the Equality Act 2010 in respect of third party workers and ensure it is shared with associated organisations supplying such staff.
  • Contractual clauses preventing disclosure of future acts of discrimination, harassment or victimisation should be invalid. The circumstances in which such clauses will be void should be set out in the Statutory Code of Practice, along with the best practice for the use of confidentiality clauses in Settlement Agreements. The SRA and Bar Standards Board should issue guidance regarding solicitors' and barristers' professional obligations when drafting and advising on confidentiality clauses.
  • The limitation periods for harassment claims in an Employment Tribunal should be amended to 6 months from 3.
  • The introduction of interim relief provisions for harassment and victimisation claims.
  • The ability for the Employment Tribunal to make recommendations to improve employers' practices.

Emma Swan, a Partner in the Employment and HR Department at Forbes Solicitors explained that "By reviewing the Commission's soft recommendations employers can begin to implement best practice as far as possible. By implementing best practice without being subjected to increased statutory liability at the current time, employers will potentially afford themselves added protection in respect of any sexual harassment claims in the interim, reduce any instances of sexual harassment by increasing transparency in the workplace, and also reduce the impact of any future legislative changes as many changes will already have taken place."

If you are looking for more information in relation to the Commission's recommendations or sexual harassment in general, please contact our Employment and HR team by telephone on 0333 207 1135. Alternatively, send your enquiry to us through our online contact form.

For more information contact Jonathan Holden in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 01772 220396 / 07976 278888. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Employment & HR department here

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