The government has recently published the outcome of its Consultation on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. The key take away from this is a commitment from the government that they will legislate to introduce a duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment and create explicit protections from harassment by third parties.
There is also consideration being given to raising the time limit for discrimination claims to six months rather than three.
How does this differ from current legislation?
Currently employers can avoid liability for sexual harassment committed by its employees if it has taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent that harassment. However the new proposals will impose a positive duty by forcing employers to be more proactive on this issue. This could mean that an employer is liable even if no incident has taken place. The focus is very much on prevention rather than reaction.
What steps should employers be taking?
The government has not announced a time line to introduce these changes and while there may not be an immediate hurry for employers to prepare there are some steps that can be taken now.
More detail is required in terms of how these changes will be enforced. Additionally, while the focus of the consultation was sexual harassment, it has not been specified if the changes will apply to other types of harassment as well. Some answers are likely to come from a new statutory Code of Practice which may be put forward for consultation at some point this year.
In relation to third parties, it would be prudent to include anti-harassment clauses in contracts with suppliers. Displaying signs or notices explaining that harassment is unacceptable may also go some way to complying with this new duty.
There will need to be more clarity around what exactly is meant by “all reasonable steps.” However, this is likely to include the provision of training, implementation of policies and thorough investigations.
Further information and advice on this topic will be provided in a training session run by Navigator. More details on this session including dates and times will be announced in due course.
If you have any questions on any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.