Government announces proposals to strengthen employee protections against sexual harassment
Penny Mordaunt, the UK Minister for Women and Equalities, has announced the Government’s latest proposals to protect employees from sexual harassment.
These proposals are the subject of a consultation which can be found here.
- Employer obligations on preventing workplace sexual harassment to be strengthened, with this potentially to include a duty on employers to take preventative action to avoid harassment;
- Employers to be liable for harassment of their staff by third parties;
- The protections in the Equality Act to be extended to protect volunteers and interns, as well as workers and employees;
- Time limits for bringing a discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal to be extended from three months to six months; and
- Other, non-legislative measures to be introduced to assist with stamping out sexual harassment in the workplace, including research to develop understanding of what methods are effective in avoiding/dealing with sexual harassment.
The proposals echo a number of the observations made in the reports of the EHRC and the Women and Equalities Select Committee regarding workplace sexual harassment. The proposals most likely to spark controversy among employers are those relating to third-party harassment (not least because provisions addressing this issue have already been removed from the Equality Act) and the extension of limitation periods. However, a strong case has been made in favour of both proposals. The Presidents’ Club scandal demonstrates the importance of third-party harassment protections, particularly in circumstances where there is a significant power imbalance between the third parties in question and the workers involved. The extension of time limits may also be appropriate in many cases where the trauma suffered by the employee in question has been particularly severe, resulting in a delay in them obtaining the legal advice they need to launch a claim. It will be interesting to see whether the third-party harassment protections are re-introduced in a more user-friendly format; employers had previously found them confusing, which was part of the reason for their removal.