Looking Into An Employer’s Duty To Prevent Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Unfortunately, discriminatory behaviour comes in many forms and it can cause harm to employees through many means. An incredibly common cause of workplace discrimination is harassment and whilst there are several types of workplace harassment, sexual harassment has been a huge problem for many years now. Thankfully, the UK Government is intending to do more to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Simply put, harassment is behaviour towards an individual that causes them to feel victimised and instances of sexual harassment in the workplace include; the unnecessary touching of a person, making jokes of a sexual nature and the use of sexually suggestive materials. An incredibly common form of sexual harassment involves employers making sexual advances towards employees in return for career benefits too.

The recent announcement from the Government has given many employees hope that more will soon be done to significantly reduce the amount of sexual harassment in the workplace and below we have looked into the new ‘duty’ that will be placed upon employers in this regard.

What was the Government’s announcement?

The UK Government announced that it intends to introduce a new duty requiring employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Whilst it is not yet clear exactly what this new duty will entail, employers will have to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment and make the workplace safer for everyone, and they could find themselves liable if they do not do so.

In addition to this, the Government will introduce explicit protections from third-party harassment and also look closely at extending the time limit for bringing Equality Act 2010 based cases to the employment tribunal from 3 months to 6 months.

These proposals are in response to the Government’s 2019 consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace which ran from the 11th July to the 2nd October 2019. At this moment in time, there is not any indication as to when legislative changes will be introduced, but the Government has said that it will be as soon as parliamentary time allows.

What are employers’ current requirements relating to sexual harassment?

Currently, under equality law, employers must take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of employees by their colleagues. This means that although anyone who sexually harasses someone at work is responsible for their own actions, employers can also be held responsible too. ‘Vicarious liability’ means that employers can be liable for the legal wrongs committed by an employee in the course of their employment.

In an attempt to ensure that they will not be liable should a sexual harassment claim be taken to the Employment Tribunal, many employers will have policies and procedures in place, and also provide staff training surrounding sexual harassment.

What protection do employees currently have against sexual harassment?

It is essential that all employees are aware that The Equality Act 2010 already protects them against sexual harassment in the workplace. This piece of legislation provides protection for every section of UK employment and should you be subjected to sexual harassment, you can make a claim to the Employment Tribunal. This claim can be brought against both the harasser and also your employers on the basis that they are vicariously liable for the harassment.

Learning more about protections surrounding sexual harassment

All in all, many are hopefully that the various proposals made by the Government will have a positive impact and help to significantly reduce the number of employees who experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Should you have any questions at all regarding discrimination and harassment or require any tailored legal advice in relation to your individual experience of sexual harassment, please do not hestistate to contact Damian McCarthy.

As an employment law specialist in Central London, Damian has the knowledge and experience required to discuss workplace sexual harassment with you in much more detail. He will be able to provide you with any additional information that you require about The Equality Act 2010 and how it protects you from harassment whilst at work. If you are interested in making a claim against your employer, Damian can assist you in doing so too and he has a wide range of experience helping clients with employment law issues, so you can trust that you will be in the best hands when you turn to him for assistance.