fbpx

Employers Duty to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Aug 4, 2021

Last week, the Government published its response to the consultation carried out in 2019 which explored the law surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace.

Despite the existing legal protections in place, there have been many examples and publications about continued experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace and this has not gone unnoticed. The Government has now confirmed that clear standards and expectations must be implemented to reflect the ‘modern workplace’ which has changed drastically since the COVID 19 pandemic and proposed that an additional mandatory duty on employers is required to prevent this unwanted conduct.

We have set out, below, a summary of the outcome to this consultation.

The Consultation

The consultation was designed to primarily consider the following points:

  1. The duty on employers to implement preventative measures to protect workers from harassment.
  2. How to strengthen the existing laws on harassment by third parties?
  3. Are interns adequately protected by the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”)?
  4. The extension of employment tribunal time limits.

The Response

The consultation concluded that a positive duty should be introduced on employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent workplace sexual harassment. The expectation is that this duty would encourage employers to adopt a proactive approach and cultivate a workplace culture which benefits all employees. It is proposed that this duty is accompanied by a Statutory Code of Practice developed by the EHRC to allow an employer to accurately assess whether they have taken “all reasonable steps” to comply with their duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The response to the consultation also confirmed that specific protections should be introduced against harassment by third parties which would impose liability on an employer when an employee is subject to harassment by, for example, a customer or a member of the general public. The employer’s defence to this would be whether they took “all reasonable steps” to prevent such harassment.

It was also considered whether to introduce protections to interns. It was found that interns were likely to already be protected by the current legislation. However, the consultation response specifically noted that protections would not be extended to volunteers as to do so would have undesirable consequences on all parties such as the potential of creating significant liabilities for particular smaller organisations reliant on volunteers. There was also a general presumption that any reasonable employers would have an effective anti-harassment policy in place which covers staff at all levels, ranging from agency workers to employees, to ensure a safe working environment.

Finally, the response considered the time limit for bringing discrimination claims under the Act. At present, there is a 3 month time limit to bring a claim (save for claims relating to equal pay) which is extended under the ACAS processes and may be extended further at the discretion of an Employment Tribunal in particular circumstances. The response proposes an extension of the time limits for bringing discrimination claims to 6 months. This would be to ensure the Employment Tribunal process more accurately reflects how sexual harassment cases are appropriately handled in the modern workplace. The response also noted that there was evidence this would not only have a positive impact on sexual harassment cases, but also cases relating to pregnancy and maternity.

The response concludes that there are steps to be taken to ensure a legal framework exists to support employees and imposes a duty on employers to include additional protections for those who are victims of sexual harassment.

Next Steps

We wait to see whether the Government will take forward these proposals from the consultation and change the Act. While the existing legislation gives protection to employees, there is always room for improvement and this is a critical area that the law must protect. Further guidance from the Government will be needed on exactly how employers will have to operate to ensure they have taken “all reasonable steps” but we anticipate that this will include clear policies and processes, training and regular publication of what employers are doing to make sure that employees are protected.

For further information or to discuss the issues raised by this update, please contact our Employment Group on 0118 977 4045 or employment@herrington-carmichael.com.

Click here to see our ‘Employment Law Figures 2021’ which includes basic figures, time off work, living wage, minimum wage and tax rates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to a particular matter.

Alistair McArthur

Alistair McArthur

Partner, Head of Employment Law

Sign up

Enter your email address for legal updates on Employment & Immigration Law.

Please see our privacy policy regarding use of your data.


Employment Management Training Sessions

Darren Smith, a Partner in our Employment team, will be hosting a series of online training sessions looking at essential employment law for managers. Each session will be £79.95 + VAT.

> How to Avoid the Problems of Recruitment & Probation
> Equality, Diversity & Inclusion
> Absence Management
> How to Performance Manage
> Problems with Social Media & actions outside of the workplace
> Disciplinaries and Grievances
> Conducting a Fair Redundancy Process

Employment Management Training Sessions

Darren Smith, a Partner in our Employment team, will be hosting a series of online training sessions looking at essential employment law for managers. Each session will be £79.95 + VAT.

> How to Avoid the Problems of Recruitment & Probation
> Equality, Diversity & Inclusion
> Absence Management
> How to Performance Manage
> Problems with Social Media & actions outside of the workplace
> Disciplinaries and Grievances
> Conducting a Fair Redundancy Process

Contact us

    The information you submit will be handled in accordance with our privacy policy.

    FREE: Legal Insights and Event News 

    Keep you, your family and / or business up to date on how the law affects you, by subscribing to one of our legal insights.

    Subscribe for free Legal Insights
    & Event updates

    Receive the latest legal developments and professional advice to keep your family and business safe.
    Please choose which list you would like to subscribe to below.





    Please see our privacy policy regarding use of your data.


    Latest News & Insights

    Podcasts

    The Legal Room UK Podcast features a diverse range of specialists offering expertise on a variety of topics. 
    Subscribe on whatever podcast platform you use.

    Top Legal Insights

     

    Contract Law

    Material Breach of Contract

    What is a ‘material’ breach of contract by a party to a commercial contract? This is a critical issue regularly considered by the courts. What constitutes a material breach and what are the remedies?

    Property Law

    Commercial Lease: The Financial impact on Landlord and Tenant

    Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the restrictions now in place to control its spread, are having a significant effect on many business sectors.

    Divorce and Family Law

    Divorce in Lockdown: Can I get some discreet legal advice?

    We have spoken to clients who are unfortunately experiencing some family issues, and would like to obtain expert legal advice, yet don’t know how...

    Land & Property Dispute

    Restrictive Covenants – The Price of Modification

    Having identified that your land is burdened by a restrictive covenant and for the purposes of this article the covenant in question will be that only one residential building can be erected on the land. What do you do next?

    Wills, Trusts and Probate

    Why is having a will so important?

    It is entirely up to you if and when you want to create a Will, but it is important to be aware of the consequences of not having a Will.

    Award winning legal advice

    We are solicitors in Camberley, Wokingham and London. In 2019, Herrington Carmichael won ‘Property Law Firm of the Year’ at the Thames Valley Business Magazines Property Awards, ‘Best Medium Sized Business’ at the Surrey Heath Business Awards and we were named IR Global’s ‘Member of the Year’. We are ranked as a Leading Firm 2020 by Legal 500 and Alistair McArthur is ranked in Chambers 2020.

    London

    60 St Martins Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4JS 

    +44 (0) 203 755 0557

     

    Camberley

    Building 2  Watchmoor Park, Riverside Way, Camberley, Surrey  GU15 3YL

    +44 (0)1276 686 222

     

    Wokingham (Appointment only)

    4 The Courtyard, Denmark Street, Wokingham, Berkshire RG40 2AZ

    +44 (0)118 977 4045

    info@herrington-carmichael.com

    © 2021 Herrington Carmichael LLP. Registered in England and Wales company number OC322293.

    Herrington Carmichael LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

    Privacy Policy   |   Legal Notices, T&Cs, Complaints Resolution   |   Cookies

    Client Feedback   |   Diversity Data