Following the shocking revelations regarding widespread sexual harassment across the entertainment and film industry in 2017 and the continuing exposure of similar cases by the #MeToo campaign, the Women and Equalities Commission has produced a report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.
Employers should be alert to the changes which may come into force following the recommendations made in that report. These include:
· a proposal to impose a mandatory duty on employers to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. This would be enforceable by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and punishable by fines.
· extension of protection to volunteers and interns.
· risk assessments by public employees, in line with health and safety legislation, plus an obligation to take steps to mitigate any risks that are identified as shortcomings.
· third party sexual harassment to be re-instated, making employers liable if they have failed to take steps to prevent sexual harassment of their staff by non-employees.
· an extension of the time limit for bringing claims from 3 months to 6 months – the clock would be stopped for compliance with any internal grievance procedure.
Tribunals may also be given the power to award punitive damages against employers who fail in their duty, as well as ordering the legal costs of the claimant to be paid by the employer. This recommendation was based on overwhelming feedback that the costs of bringing a claim to the Tribunal is prohibitive to many, particularly in view of the often-low awards for injury to feelings.
Finally, to ensure transparency, the report recommends that there should be some limit regarding the use of ‘gagging clauses’ in settlement agreements, with their use limited to government approved clauses, making it a professional disciplinary offence, and possibly even a criminal offence, for lawyers (or employers) to propose the use of a non-approved confidentiality clauses.
If the recommendations of this report are adopted, every employer will need to take swift and decisive action.
For further information or advice on the report’s recommendations or any other HR/employment law issue, call Henry Doswell of Doswell Law Solicitors on 01233 722942 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org