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Government, regulators and employers failing on sexual harassment

Written by Helen Murphie on .

Helen MurphieHelen MurphieThe Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Maria Miller MP, has published a report that says Government, regulators and employers are all failing in their responsibilities to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.

The committee concludes that sexual harassment is widespread and commonplace, with its report highlighting five priorities for employers:

  • A new duty on employers to prevent harassment
  • Require regulators to take a more proactive role
  • Make enforcement processes work better for employees
  • Clean up the use of non-disclosure agreements
  • Collect robust data on sexual harassment

The evidence sadly shows that sexual harassment remains an occupational hazard for women in the workplace. The ‘MeToo’ movement has pricked society’s conscience to challenge the situation.

However, the current system is weighted against the victim; the burden is on an individual to complain and if her grievance falls on deaf ears, she can choose to suffer in silence, leave her job, or engage in an often protracted and stressful legal process to get access to justice.

It’s not unusual for a case to take up to a year to get to an Employment Tribunal because of the current lack of judicial resources.

Putting a positive obligation on employer to take a proactive approach to prevent sexual harassment including complying with a statutory Code of Conduct is one way to help tackle the problem.

For example, most employers are aware of and comply with the ACAS disciplinary and grievance Code of Practice. Compensation may be increased by up to 25 percent in the Employment Tribunal if an employer fails to comply with the code, a punitive measure which aids compliance.

Many employers are aware of the law against sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation under the Equality Act 2010, but what is required is clear words and action from businesses to support their internal policies to help identify issues and change outdated and sexist ideas, views and behaviours.

The good employers are taking the challenge seriously and are taking steps to make a practical difference in the work place by educating both managers and employees about sexual harassment and its various forms, conducting anonymous surveys to identify issues, encouraging reporting of concerns, and taking tough action against perpetrators.

Helen Murphie is a partner in Royds Withy King’s employment team