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Parliamentary Committee Suggest Tough New Measures To Tackle Sexual Harassment At Work

Irwin Mitchell Says Committee ‘Unimpressed’ With Inaction Over ‘Longstanding And Endemic Problem’


Karen Roberts, Press Officer | 0207 400 8714

The Women and Equalities Committee has just published a series of recommendations designed to put workplace sexual harassment at the top of the agenda.  It accuses UK employers of an “epidemic of inaction” which has failed to protect (mainly) women from sexual harassment.

It recommends:

  1. Imposing a mandatory duty on employers to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace, enforceable by the EHRC and punishable by fines.
  2. Imposing a duty for public sector employers to conduct risk assessment for sexual harassment and take steps to mitigate any risks.
  3. Re-introducing third party harassment, so that employers are liable if they have failed to take reasonable steps to prevent others harassing their staff.
  4. Extending sexual harassment protection for interns and volunteers (who are only protected if they can establish they are a worker or employee).
  5. Making it easier for victims to bring Employment Tribunal claims by extending the time limit for bringing a claim from three to six months and pausing the clock during any internal grievance process.
  6. Giving Tribunals the ability to increase awards to successful individuals by way of punitive damages (designed to act as a deterrent) and having an assumption that victims will have their costs met if they are successful. 
  7. Limiting the ability to use confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements to ‘government approved’ standard clauses.

These recommendations will only become law if the government supports them and they are approved by parliament.

The Committee was unimpressed with the steps employers have taken to tackle, what it describes as a "long standing and endemic problem" - citing a lack of awareness of sexual harassment at the most senior levels and suggests this may be due to the under-representation of women at this level.

Expert Opinion
“Most of these suggestions are sensible and long overdue. My experience is that employers’ reactions are inconsistent and often inadequate. Many organisations only demonstrate “paper based” compliance rather than a real desire to root out harassment. Sadly, the person that has made the complaint often ends up leaving the business, rather than the actual perpetrator. We have seen this time and again in the many cases of sex discrimination we have dealt with including women in senior roles in banking, law, healthcare and the media."

“I agree that victims should have alternatives to bringing a claim in a tribunal and believe that regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive, Financial Conduct Authority or General Medical Council could play a crucial role in setting expectations for employers and helping to protect workers from sexual harassment."

“I also support the call for volunteers and interns to be protected. It seems extraordinary, that a volunteer who is harassed at work has to prove they are a worker before they obtain any protection. That is absurd and I hope the government does make changes to protect them.”
Shah Qureshi, Partner