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New Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment at Work

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The government has today announced that a new Code of Practice is to be introduced aimed at tackling sexual harassment at work.  This follows the #MeToo social media campaign and an increasing prevalence of the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The package of measures includes 12 separate proposals, which include a variety of consultations to understand more about the relevant issues around the topic of sexual harassment.  Ministers are not proposing a new duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation, nor to increase sanctions where employers demonstrate bad practices.  This has resulted in the proposals being met with criticism by some that they do not go far enough to ensure positive action is being taken to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace, in addition to the complaint that the proposals have taken too long to be introduced.  However, the measures clearly show that the issue is now being seen as a priority for the Government in the face of increasing calls for more to be done to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.

The measures include:

  • The introduction of a new statutory code of practice on sexual harassment to be developed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission under its Equality Act 2006 powers
  • The government to implement initiatives to raise awareness in conjunction with key stakeholders, such as Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), the Equality and Human Rights Committee (EHRC) and employers
  • The commissioning of a survey to gather regular data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Consultation on the use, suitability and pitfalls of non-disclosure agreements with the intention of developing better regulation on their use
  • Consultation on the evidence base for a new legal duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Consultation on strengthening and clarifying the laws on third party harassment in the workplace (a provision previously dropped from the Equality Act 2006 back in 2013 under the coalition government)
  • Consultation on whether further legal protections are required for interns and volunteers
  • Consultation to explore the evidence for extending employment tribunal time limits for Equality Act 2010 cases (currently time limits are 3 months from the date of the act of discrimination or detriment).
  • Ensuring the public sector takes action to tackle and prevent sexual harassment at work
  • Working with regulators for whom sexual harassment is particularly relevant to ensure they are taking appropriate action
  • Consideration of whether lessons can be learnt from the criminal justice system to use in the employment tribunal system, to ensure vulnerable claimants have appropriate protection
  • A checking exercise into the list of organisations who can receive ‘whistle-blowing’ information and ensuring that this includes the right bodies, plus a proposal that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (‘ECHR’) is included.

The package demonstrates the commitment to dealing with the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, which has been highlighted as a very real problem that still exists in UK workplaces. A recent survey has shown that 40% of women and 18% of men have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work at some point, demonstrating there is still plenty that needs to be done to stamp this out altogether.