Sexual harassment in the workplace has been unlawful for decades and workers are already offered protection under the Equality Act 2010. Sexual harassment can take place in many forms, the list for what constitutes sexual harassment is extensive, but can include unwanted or offensive banter, leering, inappropriate comments about appearance, sexual advances and can still take place with workers who are working remotely.
The government has provided its comments on a recent consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace which they say will lead to changes that employers need to be aware of and be ready to take action. The consultation questionnaire received responses from employers, charities, professional bodies, and over 4,000 members of the public, of whom, 54% reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Following the consultation, when parliamentary time allows, the government intends to introduce a new duty on employers requiring them to be more proactive in preventing sexual harassment in their workplace. This will also include clear protection from third party harassment from the likes of clients and customers. Employers will be required to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent occurrences of sexual harassment in their workplace and to protect themselves from potential claims being brought against them.
Also planned for consideration is increasing the time limitation to bring Equality Act based claims to the employment tribunal, from three months to six months, to ensure the short time limit is not a barrier to accessing justice.
The government plans to support the Equality and Human Rights Commission to publish new guidance and a statutory code of practice for employers. This will go further than the current protections in place for employees, meaning that employers will be required to put enhanced harassment policies and procedures in place, leading to potential training across the wider workforce to ensure that all staff are aware of the workplace practices and culture.
By Joanne Ribchester, paralegal in the employment and discrimination team