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:
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.
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