03 April 2018
The Equality and Human Rights Commission Report Dealing with Sexual Harassment at Work - March 2018
The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a detailed study this week, addressing the key issues when reporting and dealing with sexual harassment within the work place.
Why is this EHRC report about sexual harassment in the workplace important?
The report shows how sexual harassment has often been normalised within the workplace and how many employers are failing to deal with complaints effectively.
Currently victims are prevented from coming forward, for fear of how they would be treated, fear of the incident being covered up and by fear of being silenced.
It has also identified widespread failures by employers to adequately protect employees from sexual harassment and to also protect them from victimisation, when they do have the strength to speak out. This culture of silence has been continued by the use of non-disclosure agreements, preventing victims from speaking out, once they have settled their case.
The EHRC is uniquely placed to make these recommendations to the Government with hopes to improve the position for victims of harassment and to ensure employers take steps to prevent it occurring in the first place.
What are their recommendations? And how do they differ from before?
- Currently, many contracts include non-disclosure agreements which effectively prevent individuals from making allegations of sexual harassment.
- One of the key findings of the report is that there is a lack of consistency between how employers address complaints. Many employers are either ignoring complaints altogether or are taking steps to silence victims.
- It is recommended that much greater onus be placed on employers to take responsibility for harassment. Currently, there is no enforcement action available where an employer has failed to take steps to prevent harassment from taking place.
- The report recommends a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment which, if not followed, could lead a 25% increase on compensation awarded by an Employment Tribunal.
- It is proposed that all employers should have a harassment policy and that guidance be provided as to what the policy will contain, including; what steps should be taken in the event of a complaint, how managers and staff will be trained about these matters, and what best practice would look like. It is also recommended that these policies are published, to increase transparency and to raise awareness.
- It is recommended that an on-line reporting mechanism be made available. Similar schemes elsewhere have shown that the ability to report matters anonymously, or to discover others who have also raised complaints about the same individual, have been successful in increasing reporting and transparency, and assisting employers to identify and address persistent issues.
- In relation to potential claims to an Employment Tribunal, the report recommends an extension of time limits from three to six months.
- It is also proposed that individuals would be entitled to pursue claims for interim relief. This would mean that individuals who have had their employment terminated following a complaint of sexual harassment would be able to apply to remain in employment until their claims have been determined.
- Finally, the report recommends that some protections are re-instated. These include reintroduction of the statutory questionnaire procedure where individuals can ask an employer general questions about discrimination and equality issues generally and in relation to their potential claim and reinstatement of protection from third party harassment such as clients and customers.
How will the recommendations affect victims of sexual harassment?
- Without onerous NDA’s victims should feel more empowered to speak up about what has happened.
- Employers will be more likely to provide appropriate support and to properly investigate matters knowing that, if they do not, they may be subject to increased penalties from a Tribunal.
- If the victim does not receive the proper support or suffers victimisation as a result of speaking up, there will be more effective remedies.
What do employers need to do to be a good employer, in light of these recommendations?
There is no need for employers to wait for the Government to adopt any of the recommendations.
Employers can act now by ensuring that they have detailed policies in place which are widely publicised so that all staff are aware of their obligations and that the obligations apply to all, including more senior staff who are often perceived as “protected”.
Employers could consider providing training to all staff as part of an indication process, and in particular offer training to those who may be called upon to address any concerns. Employers could also consider appointing diversity champions to support victims and to assist in identifying any trends in behaviours and review their contracts to ensure that any reference to clauses preventing harassment from being reported are removed.
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