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Sexual harassment and harassment at work

On 15 January 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) issued new guidance setting out the law and best practice on the prevention of workplace sexual harassment and harassment. 

In December 2018, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and a much-publicised report on sexual harassment from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, the Government announced a raft of measures aimed at tackling sexual and other harassment. This latest development makes it clear that the new Government remains committed to pushing forward with reforms aimed at strengthening protection for workers against inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

The new guidance explains employers’ legal responsibilities and the practical steps they should take to prevent and respond to harassment and victimisation at work. It also provides advice for workers to help them understand the law and their employer’s obligations to prevent harassment and victimisation, or to respond to their complaint. It reminds employers that harassment can take the form of physical gestures, jokes or pranks, and banter in the workplace.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“It is time for all employers to step up action against misconduct and protect their staff from harassment. It’s been two years since #MeToo forced sexual harassment to the top of the agenda. We’ve seen some employers wake up, take this on board and start to make the differences which will transform working environments and boost the economy through empowering people to reach their potential. But we need others to follow suit. The issue is not going to go away and if we are going to create working environments where no one is ever made to feel unsafe or threatened, then we need a dramatic shift in workplace cultures.’

No form of harassment can ever be justified and for too long the onus has been on the victim to challenge inappropriate treatment. By setting out legal requirements and providing practical examples on preventing and responding to harassment, we hope that our guidance will shift the burden back on to employers.”

Alongside the technical guidance, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has published seven steps employers should consider to ensure they are doing all they can to prevent and deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.

These are:

  1. Develop an effective anti-harassment policy
  2. Engage staff with regular one-to-ones and have an open-door policy
  3. Assess and mitigate risks in the workplace
  4. Consider using a reporting system that allows workers to raise an issue anonymously or in name
  5. Train staff on what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like, what to do if workers experience it and how to handle complaints
  6. Act immediately when a harassment complaint is made
  7. Treat harassment by a third-party just as seriously as that by a colleague

This new technical guidance is extremely comprehensive, with clear explanations of the relevant legal principles and numerous examples to illustrate practical issues. Information is provided on the prevalence and effects of some of the different forms of harassment in the workplace, including statistics and research findings from the EHRC and others. To download the guide, click here.

At ViewHR we specialise in conducting impartial workplace investigations into harassment and bullying and have successfully participated in the conclusion of both standard as well as complex investigation matters. Get in touch with the team today if you require support in your business.