The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has published the Government’s response to its report on sexual harassment in the work place.
The WEC report, which was published in July 2018, identified a number of limitations with current laws and practices, and called for various reforms in an effort to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.
On 18 December 2018, the Committee published the Government’s response to its report. In summary, the Government agrees with the WEC on a number of the points raised in the report and commits to taking the following action:
- Working with the European Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to develop a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment
- Raising the maximum financial penalty for an aggravated breach of employment rights from £5,000 to £20,000 (which will come into force on 6 April 2019)
- Engaging with regulators to ensure that they are taking appropriate action to prevent and address sexual harassment
- Working with ACAS, the EHRC and employers to raise awareness of appropriate workplace behaviours and individual rights
- Gathering data on the prevalence and nature of workplace sexual harassment at least once every three years
- Consulting on:
- whether to introduce a mandatory duty to protect workers from sexual harassment
- how to improve regulation surrounding the use of non- disclosure agreements in a sexual harassment context
- whether to extend the time limit for bringing employment tribunal claims under the Equality Act from three months to six months
- whether new protections should be introduced to protect interns and volunteers from sexual harassment
- how best to strengthen and clarify laws in relation to third party harassment
Interestingly, the government rejected the WEC’s recommendations to:
- Introduce a public sector equality duty requiring public employers to carry out risk assessments for sexual harassment and to implement action plans
- Allow employment tribunals to uplift compensation in cases where an employer has failed to comply with the proposed statutory code of practice on sexual harassment
- Alter employment tribunal costs rules in sexual harassment cases to allow successful Claimants to automatically recover their legal costs
- ‘Pause the clock’ on employment tribunal time limits until the conclusion of internal grievance procedures.
We are pleased to see that the government seems to be taking a measured approach to the recommendations recognising both the need for change in this area but also the potential limitations of some of the WEC’s recommendations.