The Government has announced that a new statutory code of practice on sexual harassment will be introduced. The code will be developed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) so that employers can better understand their legal responsibility to protect staff.
The prevailing view is that prevention is better than cure and, as such, much of the work focuses on how to prevent sexual harassment before it occurs. The new statutory code is therefore aimed at helping employers understand and demonstrate that they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment (that being the statutory defence to a discrimination claim).
The Government shied away from introducing a new mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from harassment. However, this has not been ruled out, and will be the subject of future consultation.
Of note is that the Government has chosen not to introduce an uplift in compensation for breaches of the statutory code (as is the case for breach of the Acas code on discipline and grievances), although this will be kept under review.
Given that there is a lack of robust data on the level of sexual harassment in the workplace, a survey will be commissioned to gather regular data on the prevalence and nature of workplace sexual harassment. The survey will be conducted at least every three years and it is expected that the first survey will be launched later this year.
The Government will also be consulting on the following:
- the use of secrecy clauses;
- extending the employment tribunal time limits to submit a claim (from 3 months to 6 months); and
- how to strengthen and clarify the law in relation to employers’ liability for third party harassment (e.g. from members of the public towards employees) at work.
The Government will work with Acas, EHRC and employers to raise awareness of appropriate workplace behaviours and ensure that individuals know their legal rights.
Given the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and future legal developments, it is clear that employers need to be taking more preventative action. Please get in touch to discuss our various training packages including, Workplace Culture and Sexual Harassment, and how we can help ensure your organisation has taken all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the first instance. Prevention is better than cure.
If you have any questions on employment law please contact Selene Holden (firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 01284 717436), Greg Jones (email@example.com ~ 01284 717446) or Angharad Ellis Owen (firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 01284 717453).