The Harvey Weinstein scandal shone a spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace. But one year on, are employers implementing effective measures to prevent this type of behaviour occurring?
The sad reality is that it doesn’t seem that employers are not doing enough. A recent survey by law firm, Slater and Gordon, has uncovered that 52% of respondents believe that their employer hasn’t taken any measures to address sexual harassment in the workplace and 56% were not aware of a policy regarding sexual harassment in their company.
Most worryingly of all, 20% of respondents commented that this type of conduct was “the norm” and 70% did not report instances of harassment.
This shows that this isn’t a problem that will just go away.
Employers need to deal with harassment when it arises, but they should also be taking proactive steps to train staff on awareness and prevention.
This explains one reason why the government has announced it will introduce a statutory Code of Practice on sexual harassment.
The aim is to make clear the action employers need to take to comply with their legal obligations.
Minister for Women Victoria Atkins said: “Sexual harassment at work is illegal, but sadly that disgusting behaviour is something that many women still experience today.
“We are taking action to make sure employers know what they have to do to protect their staff, and people know their rights at work and what action to take if they feel intimidated or humiliated.”
What is behind the government’s decision?
All the high-profile and public cases and the prevalence of the #metoo movement have shown the scale and magnitude of sexual harassment in our workforces.
Examples of sexual harassment have dominated the news in the past few years. Harvey Weinstein has obviously come to epitomise sexual harassment in the workplace. However, additional high profile sexual harassment cases including:
- Ray Kelvin, owner of Ted Baker, taking a leave of absence due to allegations of innapropriate behaviour.
- Workers from the charity, Oxfam, have been accused of using sex workers in Haiti; and
- Travis Kalanick, Founder of Uber, resigned following allegations of inappropriate behaviour and a toxic work environment.
The Women & Equalities Committee published a report in July 2018, which called upon the government to establish a mandatory duty on employers to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.
They believed that a breach of this duty should be enforceable by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) with substantial financial penalties. The Committee also suggested that there should be a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment which should lay down what employers are required to do in order to fulfil this duty.
How has the government reacted?
The government has decided to work with the EHRC and introduce a Code of Practice.
However, they have stopped short of creating a duty on employers to protect workers from victimisation and they have also not decided to bring in tougher sanctions on those employers with poor practices.
As part of their 12 point plan, the government will consult on non-disclosure agreements and third party harassment. They will also consult on whether additional protection is needed for volunteers and interns and whether to extend the time limit for submitting claims to Employment Tribunals. The government will also consider the evidence base for a legal duty imposed on employers to stop employees from being harassed.
The government has also agreed to gather data on the pervasiveness of workplace sexual harassment.
Ellis Whittam’s top tips:
- Develop and promote a working environment where employees are encouraged to report any cases of sexual harassment.
- Have all the right HR policies and procedures in place. Seek legal advice when drafting your codes of conduct, grievance procedure, bullying and harassment procedure and all other appropriate HR policies.
- Train your managers so they understand how all internal policies and procedures work.
- Take allegations of sexual harassment seriously and act when issues arise.
If you would like to discuss this further, please contact 01244 688420 or email