HR Consultancy Corner: Spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace
You may have seen recent reports in the media concerning three formal complaints that have been made against the former Labour MP Geraint Davies, who was suspended over allegations of inappropriate behaviour. He has denied the claims, however, these latest high-profile allegations are no doubt damaging for the Labour Party and again bring the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace back into the spotlight.
In a recent TUC poll of over 1,000 women, it found that three in five women (58%) have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse at work, rising to nearly two in three young women between the ages of 25 and 34 (62%). More than half of the women surveyed said they had experienced at least three instances of sexual harassment (57%).
The poll found that the perpetrator in 39% of the most recent instances of harassment was a third party, (such as a client, customer or patient), and that sexual harassment is the least likely form of harassment that would be formally reported to employers. The main reasons cited for not reporting incidents of sexual harassment included a concern that they would not be believed, that it would negatively impact on their working relationships, it would adversely affect their career to complain or that their complaint would not be taken seriously. These findings indicate that employers need to do more to stamp out and address harassment in the workplace.
New legislation on the horizon
In March 2023, the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill passed the second reading stage in the House of Lords. The Bill is due to be further scrutinised at the Committee Stage, but a date is yet to be confirmed.
The proposed legislation seeks to amend the Equality Act 2010, which among other things imposes a legal duty on employers to protect workers from harassment by other employees. The legislation defines harassment as “unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic” (i.e. age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation) where that conduct has the purpose or effect of “creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.
This duty will be expanded under the amendment, increasing the liability an employer may face for harassment of their employees by members of the public (i.e. third parties) that they encounter while doing their jobs. The Bill seeks to extend third-party liability to every type of ‘unwanted conduct’ already prohibited by the Equality Act 2010, including overheard conversations. If the Bill becomes law, employers will have expanded duties to protect their workers from overhearing ‘upsetting’ remarks made not only by their colleagues, but also by third parties. The third-party liability applies to all forms of unlawful harassment, including racial harassment and offensive conduct based on age, disability or gender. Watch this space for more information.
How we can help you
It is crucial that employers review their policies that cover equality, diversity and inclusion, and harassment and bullying in the workplace to ensure that they are up to date and focus also on third-party harassment. We can check your policies are the most up-to-date so do get in touch for our free handbook policy review.
Simply having updated policy documents and rolling them out to staff is not enough. You should carry out regular anti-harassment and discrimination training sessions for all your staff to ensure that your staff are aware of your expectations. This can help you build a positive and healthy workplace that allows your staff to feel safe and happy at work. We can prepare and deliver short but to the point training sessions to cover this important topic.
Let us know if you want to hear more about our Respect at Work Training, with sessions starting from £350 plus VAT. For a no obligation quote please get in touch!