The Equality and Human Rights Commission: 'Turning the tables: Ending Sexual Harassment at Work'

Last year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published their ‘Turning the tables: Ending Sexual Harassment at Work’ report to shine a light on the work yet to be done to ensure the psychological and physical safety of employees is properly prioritised for the years to come. 

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The evidence gathered by this report suggests sexual harassment in the workplace remains far too common-place and, on the whole, is disregarded by senior level officials. Employees brave enough to speak out about their experiences find little formal support or due process to protect and empower them.

Whilst we have summarised the key takeaway points below, we recommend a read of the full report found at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/ending-sexual-harassment-at-work.pdf in order to understand the weight of the task that is ahead of us if we are ever to achieve workplaces free from sexual harassment or misconduct.

- This report is based on evidence gathered between December 2017 and February 2018 from over 1,000 individuals and employers. These testimonials brought into relief the profound mental and physical health implications of sexual harassment and of the corrosive workplace that – either through complicity with or downright encouragement of these behaviours – silences victims and normalises harassment at work.

- Redress remains inconsistent – perpetrators are rarely punished and, when they are, sanctions are neither consistent nor impactful.

- The most common perpetrator of sexual harassment was a senior colleague – though clients, customers or service users were also frequently cited.

- Around half of respondents did not report the sexual harassment they had experienced to anyone else in the workplace, let alone the authorities. Reasons cited for this included:

1.    Raising the issue would be pointless as the organisation did not take the issue seriously

2.    Perpetrators (usually senior staff) would be protected

3.    A fear of victimisation

4.    A lack of formal reporting procedures

- Most respondents to this research mentioned the belief that reporting would impact their career negatively, either through losing their job directly or even being blamed for the incident occurring at all.  

- Most respondents rated HR response as ‘very unhelpful’ – however, though very few took their claims to Union Representatives for support, those that did found their response to be helpful.  

- Respondents themselves made the following suggestions for change:

1.    Changing workplace culture– mandatory anti-harassment policy, improved training for senior figures, the implementation of anonymous reporting tools, unbiased handling of complaints and ensuring formal reporting procedures are promoted internally

2.    Promoting transparency– policies and process communicated through training at onboarding and throughout working life, improved measures for protecting client-facing staff, end settlements that require confidentiality clauses or force harassment victims to resign from their posts

3.    Strengthening protection– lengthen the time limit that staff are entitled to make tribunal claims

- The Equality and Human Rights Commission make the following recommendations:

1. Mandatory duty

- The UK Government must introduce a mandatory duty on employers to do more to protect workers from harassment at work

- A breach of this mandatory duty should constitute a breach of the Equality Act (2006) that would be enforceable by the Commission

2. Statutory code of practice

- The UK government must introduce a statutory code of practice on sexual harrassment at work in order to clarify the steps that employers must take to prevent and respond to harassment.

- Employment tribunals should be given the power to apply an uplift to compensation in harassment claims of up to 25% for each breach of this statutory code.

3. Training

- Acas (advisory, conciliation and arbitration service) should develop sexual harassment training for managers, staff and sexual harassment points of contact within an organisation.

4. Reporting mechanisms

- The UK government should develop an online tool (drawing from best practice learned from initiatives including The Callista Project) to facilitate the reporting of sexual harassment at work.

5. Data collection

- The UK government must collect data from individuals across England, Scotland and Wales every three years to fully assess the changing nature of sexual harassment at work. This work should be reported and made available to the public with an associated action plan for the coming three year period.

6. Publication of policy

- Employers must publish their sexual harassment policy and the steps they take to implement and evaluate it – this should be available on their external website

7. Non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses

- The UK government should introduce legislation that makes any contractual clause that prevents the disclosure of discrimination, harassment or victimisation null and void.

8. Limitation periods

- Employees should be able to access tribunals on the basis of harassment six months from the date of the harassment itself, the last incident of harassment or the exhaustion of any and all internal complaints procedure(s).

9. Interim relief

- Employees who have been forced out of employment due to harassment should seek reinstatement or continuation of their contract depending on the outcome of their claim

10. Restoring lost protections

- Employment tribunals must be able to make recommendations to improve employers’ relations with the workforce more broadly.  

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019
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by Serenity in Leadership
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