New duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?
The Government Equalities Office (GEO) has released the outcome of its consultation regarding sexual harassment at work. The consultation looked at how to strengthen and clarify laws on sexual harassment under the Equality Act 2010 [Read Report Here].
As a result, the government has stated that it intends to introduce a duty requiring employers to prevent sexual harassment as well as explicit protections from third-party harassment. Protections will not be extended to volunteers or interns. The government is expected to examine increasing the time limit to bring claims to six months (currently three) but this would require legislative changes and if implemented is likely to be extended to all Equality Act based claims. The purpose behind these changes is to motivate employers to make improvements to workplace practices and culture, however, given the widespread, highly damaging real-life and reputational impact of sexual harassment, employers should already be taking a strong proactive approach at deterring it. According to the GEO 2020 survey, nearly 30 per cent of employees had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past year. The first step is to recognise that this is not someone else’s problem and identify risk factors (culture, age and gender profiles, pay and power differentials, weak management, insecure work, socialising and risks posed by customers being some of the most obvious). In all cases, education and training is vital, backed up by a zero tolerance approach from management together with encouragement and support for victims to report harassment.
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