Calls for new laws to be introduced on sexual harassment at work

A group made up of 20 unions, charities and women’s rights organisations have called for new laws to be introduced which increase the amount of responsibility that is currently placed on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Notable members include the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Amnesty International UK and the Fawcett Society.


The ‘This Is Not Working Campaign’ has specifically requested that employers are made liable for preventing sexual harassment at work before it occurs, asking for a legal duty which requires them to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from sexual harassment and victimisation.


Whilst workplace discrimination is unlawful, there is currently no specific requirement for employers to prevent discrimination in their organisation. Although employers may face tribunal claims from an employee who has suffered discrimination or sexual harassment at work at the hands of a colleague, they can protect themselves from liability if they can show they have carried out reasonable measures to avoid this.   


When launching their campaign, the group pointed out that four out of five victims of sexual harassment don’t feel able to report this to their employer. To counteract this issue, a Code of Conduct has been suggested to help guide employers on ways to prevent sexual harassment, something which may prove especially beneficial to smaller organisations with limited resources. The group have also recommended mandatory training for staff and managers of all levels on how to respond to incidents of sexual harassment and spot the early signs to prevent this from occurring in the first place.


Although some employers may be less than pleased at the prospect of another duty to consider, it is clear that more needs to be done to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. According to figures referenced by the group, one in two women admit to have being sexually harassed at work, whilst 68% of LGBT staff have also experienced this form of harassment during employment.


Employers who allow this behaviour to continue, either knowingly or otherwise, are certain to face repercussions down the line, be that in the form of increased departure rates or potentially costly tribunal claims. With this in mind, employers are advised to review their existing business practices when it comes to harassment and ensure grievance reporting procedures remain fit for purpose.


Some individuals may try to use workplace banter as an excuse for acts of sexual harassment, however employers should refrain from accepting this as an excuse at all costs. Instead, all employees should be provided with appropriate sensitivity training, complete with examples of common behaviour which can often be construed as offensive and discriminatory.


Whilst we are yet to see if and when any new obligations will be introduced on employers to prevent sexual harassment, it is evident that an increased emphasis is being placed on this issue. Therefore, employers who ensure this remains at the forefront of their business agenda are sure to benefit the most in the meantime in maintaining a safe and harmonious working environment.

Suggested Resources