New duty on employers to stop sexual harassment at work
Employers will be held liable if they fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent employees from experiencing sexual harassment at work, under new proposals announced by the Government Equalities Office (GEO).
In its response to the 2019 sexual harassment in the workplace consultation, the government committed to four key actions to strengthen protection against sexual harassment in workplaces.
These included introducing a duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, as well as introducing a requirement to “create explicit protections from harassment by third parties”.
It also said it would support the Equality and Human Rights Commission to produce a statutory code of practice, and that it was considering extending the time limit for bringing Equality Act-based cases to Employment Tribunals to six months, from the current three months.
In a Ministerial Foreword, Equalities Minister Liz Truss said: “The steps we plan to take as a result of this consultation will help to shift the dial, prompting employers to take steps which will make a tangible and positive difference. We want to provide the right legal framework, which supports employees and employers alike.
“We will be providing further protections to employees who are the victims of sexual harassment, whilst also furnishing employers with the motivation and support to put in place practices and policies which respond to the needs of their organisation. We now have a real opportunity to transform the workplace and guarantee everyone an environment in which they can thrive and feel safe.”
The announcement was welcomed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which urged the government to bring the changes into law quickly.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “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.