In recent times the issue of sexual harassment has become more prevalent in modern society, leading to calls for employers to take a more proactive role in preventing harassment in the workplace. A review into the problem by the Women and Equalities parliamentary committee has resulted in a number of recommendations, many of which the government intend to include in a new statutory Code of Practice.
The government have confirmed that the Code will be structured in such a way that it will enhance employers understanding of, and provide examples of proactive action in relation to, the reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. Although the Code has yet to be finalised, a public consultation will be opened shortly in which employers will be invited to share their opinions and help to create a Code that is fit for purpose.
Given the need for prior consultation there has been no implementation date set for the Code as yet. However, it has been announced that unlike existing codes of practice, such as the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, there will be no initial mandatory uplift on tribunal compensation associated for those who fail to follow the guidelines. The government will however monitor how tribunals take account of the Code when calculating future compensation awards.
It is likely that the code will cover a number of topics associated with sexual harassment, including guidelines on appropriate dress codes and protecting staff from third party harassment. It is also possible that the code will provide detail on an employer’s duty to protect staff from sexual harassment at work related social events and how to respond to reported incidents of harassment in an appropriate manner.
In the meantime, rather than await the introduction of the statutory Code employers are advised to take proactive and preventative action to reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring. With this in mind, there are a number of steps employers can take such as reviewing existing policies on dress codes and grievance procedure to ensure they comply with current legislation, training staff on what constitutes harassment and taking firm disciplinary action against anyone found to be participating in harassment at work.
At the same time, it is also important to keep a close eye on any developments relating to the Code of Practice. Once this is introduced it will be important that employers review and amend their current workplace policies accordingly and educate all staff on any changes that will be introduced as a result.