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Consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace

The Government Equalities Office has launched a consultation on tackling sexual harassment in the workplace, including the introduction of a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment.

The consultation states that the government proposes to make changes in the law to address the following:

  • How best to make sure employers take all the steps they can to prevent harassment from happening.

  • Strengthening and clarifying the law so it’s clear employers should protect their staff from being harassed by third parties (such as clients, customers, or other people from outside their organisation). This looks like bringing back third party harassment which was introduced by the Equality Act 2010 but removed a few years later.

  • Whether interns and volunteers are adequately protected by current laws, and

  • Whether people should be given longer to take a harassment, discrimination or victimisation claim to an Employment Tribunal.

The consultation seeks to gather evidence for and against a new legal duty on employers to prevent harassment in the workplace, which could be enforced by employees and, potentially, the EHRC. Another proposal in the consultation would require employers to publicly report on their harassment policies and any disputes, for example, rates of harassment complaints. However, the government has indicated that it is against taking such a step, preferring to use a new statutory Code of Practice on harassment to place more of an onus on employers to take action, alongside an information campaign so that employers better understand what might be considered ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment. As such, this aspect of the consultation may come to nothing.

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