On 15 January 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued new guidance on sexual harassment and other forms of harassment in the workplace. The EHRC stated that “The evidence of the need for tough action on harassment in the workplace is overwhelming.”
In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the EHRC 2018 report, ‘Turning the Tables’, which highlighted the most prevalent harassment issues, the EHRC made a range of recommendations to the Government aimed towards tackling sexual and other forms of harassment. This new guidance is just one of the outcomes published by the EHRC following the process.
The EHRC guidance aims to help employers develop an understanding of the law on harassment in the workplace. The guidance is drafted in a way to raise awareness of the responsibilities and preventative steps employers can take and to provide clear guidance and best practice when dealing with harassment in the workplace.
Employers have a duty of care to protect their workers from harassment in their workplace and must take reasonable steps to prevent it. The new guidance is extremely comprehensive, providing practical examples of how to tackle and respond effectively, including:
- Defining harassment and victimisation and providing examples of each;
- Explaining the responsibility of the employer;
- Steps to prevent and respond to harassment.
In particular, the guidance recommends:
- Having an effective and well communicated policy and procedure in place which aims to prevent harassment;
- Monitoring and reviewing policies and procedures to ensure they are successful in preventing harassment;
- Providing training to workers which addresses each type of harassment;
- Raising awareness of what to do if workers experience harassment and how to deal with harassment complaints;
- Assessing risks relating to harassment including the control measures to minimise such risks, for example: power imbalances, job insecurity, lone working;
- Promoting a culture of transparency.
What does this mean for you or your business?
The new guidance is currently a voluntary measure and, whilst an employment tribunal is not obliged to consider the guidance in relevant cases, it may still be used as evidence in proceedings. It is also expected to form Statutory Code in the near future.
The guidance also makes it clear that the Government is committed to taking steps to protect workers against inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.
What do you need to be doing now?
Employers should be aware of the new guidance, and the steps to be enforced within their workplace in order to prevent sexual harassment and other forms of harassment.
Considering the potential implications of the guidance, it is recommended that employers have an effective and well communicated anti-harassment policy and procedure in place to deal with any such incident.
We would advise employers to review their current policies and determine whether it would stand under scrutiny of the issued guidance. In addition, in light of the new guidance, it would also be beneficial for employers to provide training to workers - raising awareness of the employer’s policies and procedures.
The full EHRC guidance is available here.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. This article should not be regarded as comprehensive, nor as a substitute for taking legal advice.