Following a consultation, the Government has announced it will be aiding employers in implementing practises and policies which protect staff from sexual harassment as well as supporting victims in the workplace.
In a report published yesterday, the Government has stated it will be introducing a new duty requiring employers to prevent sexual harassment.
This would be a reformulation of the existing law, under which an employer is liable only if an incident of sexual harassment occurs and they have failed to take preventative steps.
This change, it hoped, would encourage employers to take positive proactive steps to make the workplace safer for everyone.
It also stated it will be looking into extending the time frame to bring cases of sexual harassment forward to an employment tribunal. If permitted, the time limit for bringing Equality Act 2010 based cases to the employment tribunal could be pushed from 3 months to 6 months.
When investigating whether interns and volunteers are adequately protected by current laws, the Government found that many interns would already be protected under the current Equality Act.
However, it expressed that extending protections for volunteers could have “unintended consequences”, namely the effect of administrative burden this could have on smaller charities in the third sector.
The report also outlines that they will also be introducing explicit protections from third-party harassment including clients or customers.
The Government expressed its wish that this package of measures would not only strengthen protections but also motivate employers to make improvements to workplace practices and culture which will benefit all employees.
In a questionnaire that took place, over half of 4,215 employees (52 per cent) stated they had experienced harassment at work, including sexual harassment or other types of discrimination at work.
Over a third (36 per cent) said they had not whilst one in 10 (11 per cent) did not respond or stated they did not know.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady called this response a “victory for years of campaigning”:
No one should face sexual harassment at work, but the shocking reality is that most women have. Employers will now have a legal responsibility to protect their staff from sexual harassment.
And employers must now protect their workers from all forms of harassment by customers and clients as well as from colleagues. This will help stamp out sexual harassment of women workers, and racist and homophobic abuse too. And it will make all public-facing workplaces safer – from shops to surgeries, salons to showrooms.
If this is to be a genuine turning point, the government must change the law swiftly, put more resources into enforcing the new duties, and make sure victims have access to justice.