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Call to put sexual harassment ‘at the top of the agenda’ welcome, says Prospect

Call to put sexual harassment ‘at the top of the agenda’ welcome, says Prospect

Report from Women and Equalities Committee proposes tough measures to deal with sexual harassment at work

Today’s report into sexual harassment in the workplace from the Women and Equalities Committee is welcomed by Prospect.  

The report states “the #MeToo movement has put sexual harassment in the spotlight, but it is not a new phenomenon. Employers and regulators have ignored their responsibilities for too long”.

Having heard evidence from a range of contributors, including from Prospect, the Committee recognises that the effects of sexual harassment can be traumatic and devastating but there is a lack of appropriate support for victims in the workplace. They call on the government to put sexual harassment ‘at the top of the agenda’.

Prospect’s own survey this year found there is widespread sexual harassment at work. Over a third of the women respondents reported being subjected to harassment, with the figure rising to 62% of young women.

The recommendations of the Committee are wide-ranging, looking at new duties on employers to take action, making tribunal procedures more effective and regulating the use of non-disclosure agreements. Some of the key recommendations are: 

  • To introduce a new mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation at work, backed up by a code of practice
  • Everyone in the workplace should be protected from sexual harassment, regardless of whether they have a contract of employment, particularly including volunteers and interns,
  • The government should consider reinstating three provisions of the Equality Act that were abolished in 2013/4 –
    • reintroduce specific protection on third party harassment, where employers can be held liable for harassment by others such as clients or customers,
    • allow tribunals to make recommendations in respect of the workforce not just the individual claimant, and
    • reinstate the statutory procedure for asking questions in discrimination and harassment cases
  • Time limits for submitting a tribunal claim of sexual harassment should be extended to six months and there should be powers to award punitive damages against employers
  • Non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality provisions need to be ‘cleaned up’
  • The government should collect robust data on the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace and the number of employment tribunal claims.

Sexual harassment is far too far down employers’ lists of priorities and there need to be much stronger laws. The report compares a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation that can result in a fine of up to 20 million euro, with the fact that the Equality & Human Rights Commission cannot impose fines when seeking to enforce the Equality Act.

Marion Scovell, head of Prospect legal, said: “Prospect called for stronger laws on sexual harassment in response to the President’s Club scandal in January. We are very pleased to see that the Women & Equalities Committee is proposing some tough new measures. We particularly welcome the proposal of a new mandatory duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.”