Experts are calling on the government to keep momentum and not assume that sexual harassment at work has gone away since the pandemic.
It has been exactly six months since Downing Street’s response to the ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ consultation was published – in response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC) report.
At the time, the government promised to draft new legislation that would help employers prioritise the issue. It also said it would look at extending the time period for claims for workplace sexual harassment under the Equality Act from three to six months.
The report, released in 2018, pointed out that the scale of sexual harassment is masked as the majority of cases go unreported to employers and that only very few cases manage to get to employment tribunals.
However, using reponses from charities, businesses and more than 4,000 members of the public, it also showed that sexual harassment was a persistent issue that left its victims suffering with a number of mental and physical health issues.
Deborah Casale, a London-based employment partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said since the government’s response was published, nothing had happened.
“Despite all the discussions and positive engagement with numerous stakeholders though, we don’t appear to be any further forward.”
She called on the government to start implementing its promises to help people in the workplace, saying: “The government should also avoid the trap of thinking that the issue is less prevalent because more people are working from home and are more likely to work from home in the future. There have been numerous reports which have looked into how remote working has impacted levels of sexual harassment and some have revealed that the problem in some cases has become worse with perpetrators finding new ways to this target their victims via technology.”
Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula said employers should have support in place and active communication to help employees who might be affected by sexual harassment.
She said: “Sexual relationships between colleagues can be difficult to manage – particularly when one arises between a senior and a delegate.”
Ms Palmer says policies around sexual relationships in the office helps mitigate these issues: “A good move for an organisation to manage this would be to have a policy on inter-office romances which requires the disclosure of relationships or for seniors to move positions when such relationships develop. Having employees sign and date this policy serves as evidence that they understand and acknowledge these guidelines should any of these situations arise within the office.”
“I suggest that businesses make employees aware of their sexual harassment policies and take steps to educate the workforce on what is and isn’t acceptable, as well as the company’s expectation of conduct and professionalism.
“The law requires employers to keep HR records on their staff. These records will include personal information, payroll data, among other things, and legislation sets out the length of time that businesses need to keep their personnel files, even after an employee leaves.
“Keeping employee records is essential and stretches far beyond the legal responsibilities of an employer.”