New guidance for employers has been released this week on dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. The guidance, which has been released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), states that all businesses must make sure that:
“employees come to work knowing they will be safe and protected from discrimination, victimisation and harassment of any kind”.
EHRC guidance on sexual harassment at work
All employers have a legal obligation to stop sexual harassment happening and the EHRC guidance gives examples of what it can constitute (e.g. jokes, pranks, etc.). This follows on from the Turning the Tables report which the EHRC released in March 2018.
The guidance details the following steps that employers should take:
- Implement a suitable anti-sexual harassment policy for their organisation.
- Make sure that staff feel supported and that they are able to speak to their employer regarding any instances of sexual harassment through one to one meetings and having an open door policy on the subject.
- Undertake a risk assessment of the business and address any underlying issues.
- Look into implementing a system where workers can report instances of sexual harassment anonymously, if they do not want to state their name.
- Provide workers with suitable training to combat the problem, specifically what sexual harassment is and what to do if the employee experiences or witnesses it at work.
- Taking immediate action if sexual harassment has been reported.
- Addressing any instances of sexual harassment by a third party (e.g. from a client, referrer or contractor) which follow the processes that are undertaken for complaints made against a work colleague.
The guidance also discourages the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) by employees and employers, unless the circumstances are “necessary and appropriate”.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC Chief Executive, stated in a letter to employers that some progress has been made in the last two years but some employers still need to take action to combat the issue of sexual harassment. She commented:
“The issue is not going to go away and if we are going to create working environments where no one is ever made to feel unsafe or threatened, then we need a dramatic shift in workplace cultures.”
“No form of harassment can ever be justified and for too long the onus has been on the victim to challenge inappropriate treatment. By setting out legal requirements and providing practical examples on preventing and responding to harassment, we hope that our guidance will shift the burden back on to employers.”
In light of the guidance issued by EHRC, employers should be taking steps to review their policies, procedures and training to ensure that they are doing their best to promote a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated. The policies should treat any complaints and claims seriously and deal with them appropriately.
It is likely that the laws on the use of NDAs and confidentiality clauses around sexual harassment complaints will be tightened and employers should think carefully about using them. It is believed that Acas will soon be releasing their own guidance regarding the use of NDAs, so watch this space!
How Nelsons can help
At Nelsons, we can provide or review your policy framework to make sure that your organisation’s documents meet all the requirements. We offer a fixed price package for a review and bespoke action plan.
We can also provide guidance on implementation, as well as training, to make sure that staff understand and engage with your updated policies.
For further information regarding our services or to comment on this article, please contact Laura or another member of the team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.