HR · 26 July 2018

Businesses are failing to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace

53% of women and 20% of men said they had experienced sexual harassment at work

Alongside the government and regulators which MPs say are also failing to tackle sexual harassment, businesses are not doing enough to protect workers.

In turn, the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee has published a five-point plan to help solve the problem.

Chair of the committee, Maria Miller MP, said: “Government, regulators and employers have been dodging their responsibilities for far too long.”

“There is considerable focus on other corporate governance issues like protecting people’s personal data and preventing money laundering.

“It’s time to put the same emphasis on tackling sexual harassment.”

Putting sexual harassment at the top of the agenda

The report calls on Government to focus on five priorities to put sexual harassment at the top of the agenda for employers:

Introduce a new duty on employers to prevent harassment

  • Supported by a statutory code of practice outlining the steps they can take to do this; and ensuring that interns, volunteers and those harassed by third parties have access to the same legal protections and remedies as their workplace colleagues;

Require regulators to take a more active role

  • Starting by setting out the actions they will take to help tackle this problem, including the enforcement action they will take; and making it clear to those they regulate that sexual harassment is a breach of professional standards and a reportable offence with sanctions;

Make enforcement processes work better for employees

  • By setting out in the statutory code of practice what employers should do to tackle sexual harassment; and reducing barriers to taking forward tribunal cases, including by extending the time limit for submitting a claim, introducing punitive damages for employers and reducing cost risks for employees;

Clean up the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)

  • Including by requiring the use of standard, plain English confidentiality clauses, which set out the meaning, limit and effect of the clause, and making it an offence to misuse such clauses; and extending whistleblowing protections so that disclosures to the police and regulators such as the EHRC are protected;

Collect robust data

  • On the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace and on the number of employment tribunal claims involving complaints of harassment of a sexual nature.

Miller added: “There is currently little incentive for employers to take robust action.

“In contrast, there is considerable focus on other corporate governance issues like protecting people’s personal data and preventing money laundering, with stringent requirements on employers and businesses to meet their responsibilities.

“The lack of appropriate support for victims within the workplace cannot continue.

“The burden falls unacceptably on the individual to hold harassers and employers to account when  they will already hesitate to do so due to fear of victimisation.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Sexual harassment has a huge impact on women’s lives and careers. The TUC supports making employers responsible for preventing sexual harassment.

“It’s good to see the committee recommend long-overdue reforms to the tribunal system so that it works for victims of sexual harassment, and a new code of practice for employers too.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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