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04/08/2018 - Government failing to tackle sexual harassment

whatpartofnoThe Government, regulators and employers are failing in their responsibilities to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, says the Women and Equalities Committee in their report, following a wide-ranging six-month inquiry.

Releasing a new reportthat details the findings of a six-month inquiry into the matter, the cross-party group of MPs revealed that 40% of women and 18% of men have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work.

The Committee found that employers are ignoring their responsibilities and the legal protections that workers need are not available to them in practice, with the government failing to do enough to tackle unlawful behaviours, despite its obligations under international law.

Chair of the Committee, Maria Miller, said: Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said: "It is utterly shameful that in 2018, unwanted sexual comments, touching, groping and assault are seen as an everyday occurrence and part of the culture in many workplaces.

"Government, regulators and employers have been dodging their responsibilities for far too long. There is currently little incentive for employers to take robust action.

"In contrast, there is considerable focus on other corporate governance issues like protecting people's personal data and preventing money laundering, with stringent requirements on employers and businesses to meet their responsibilities.

"It's time to put the same emphasis on tackling sexual harassment."

The Committee recommended that a new duty is place on employers to prevent harassment (including of interns and volunteers, and those who are targeted by third parties), with a statutory code of practice established to guide them on how to do this.

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 employees by 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.

Patrick Harrington, general secretary of Solidairty, welcomed the report saying: "It is indeed shocking that more has not been done to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. As a union we've seen the demoralising and devastating impact this can have on victims. We support the Committee's call for action."