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New code planned to counter sexual harassment at work

The Government is to introduce a code of practice to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, in a bid to encourage employers to “take their preventative responsibilities more seriously”.

Employers already have a duty to protect employees from harassment and victimisation at work, under the Equality Act 2010.

But the Government says that the sheer extent of workplace sexual harassment suggests there is more they could be doing to prevent it.

As a result it will work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on a statutory code to help employers:

  • better understand the issue;

  • show they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent harassment.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – MP report

This commitment is part of Ministers’ formal response to a major report from MPs which stated that the Government, employers and regulators were failing to adequately tackle the issue.

The report, entitled Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, was published in July 2018 by the Women and Equalities Select Committee.

In its reply the Government pointed out that, while women are most frequently the victims of sexual harassment, men are also affected.

It is also a problem the LGBT community face as well as heterosexual and/or cisgender people.

While agreeing to immediately tackle some of the problems highlighted in the report, Ministers would only commit to consult on others. The Government has now:

  • Agreed to work with employers and employers’ organisations to raise awareness of what’s appropriate behaviour in the workplace and what rights individuals have.

  • Recognised that regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive have a bigger part to play in holding employers to account, and will work with specific regulators to make sure they do so.

  • Committed to consult on how employers could better protect employees from harassment from people outside the workplace.

  • Recognised there are problems over the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and will consult on how best to address this.

  • Said it will amend whistleblowing law so that individuals can now also report potential issues to the EHRC.

  • Committed to get more data on sexual harassment at work, in order to better inform approaches and policy in the future.

Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Committee, welcomed the response to the report, but said it didn’t go far enough.

“I am pleased that ministers have woken up and have agreed to our recommendation of a statutory code of practice,” she said on the UK Parliament website.

“But they have missed the opportunity to place a greater onus on employers to protect workers from harassment and to increase sanctions for poor practice.”

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