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7th August 2018

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Following a wide-ranging six month enquiry, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee has published a report finding that sexual harassment at work is widespread and commonplace but there has been a failure to tackle unlawful behaviours, despite the Government's obligations under international law.

Employers and regulators have ignored their responsibilities for too long, says the Committee, and often legal protections are not available to workers in practice.

The report calls on Government to focus on five priorities to put sexual harassment at the top of the agenda for employers:

  • Introduce a new duty on employers to prevent harassment, supported by a statutory code of practice outlining the steps they can take to do this; and ensuring that interns, volunteers and those harassed by third parties have access to the same legal protections and remedies as their workplace colleagues;
  • Require regulators to take a more active role, starting by setting out the actions they will take to help tackle this problem, including the enforcement action they will take; and making it clear to those they regulate that sexual harassment is a breach of professional standards and a reportable offence with sanctions;
  • Make enforcement processes work better for employeesby setting out in the statutory code of practice what employers should do to tackle sexual harassment; and reducing barriers to taking forward tribunal cases, including by extending the time limit for submitting a claim, introducing punitive damages for employers and reducing cost risks for employees;
  • Clean up the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), including by requiring the use of standard, plain English confidentiality clauses, which set out the meaning, limit and effect of the clause, and making it an offence to misuse such clauses; and extending whistleblowing protections so that disclosures to the police and regulators such as the EHRC are protected;
  • Collect robust data on the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace and on the number of employment tribunal claims involving complaints of harassment of a sexual nature.