In a survey carried out by VinciWorks, a staggering 50% of respondents said they weren’t confident their organisation would deal with a report of sexual harassment very seriously. And worse, 10% of respondents said that they had been shown sexually explicit or inappropriate content at work. The results of this survey and others evidence that in an environment where harassment is tolerated and complaints ignored, abuse will thrive. Sadly, a study by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission critically shows that 75% of victims don’t report abuse because they fear retaliation, whilst 75% of victims who did report abuse experienced retaliation.
Whistleblowing regulations in the UK
The current legislative framework governing whistleblowing in the UK was introduced by the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), which has been in force for some 20 years. PIDA amended the Employment Rights Act and its aim was to protect workers who blow the whistle not only for personal gain, but also for public interest.
PIDA clearly states that the dismissal of an employee for whistleblowing is automatically considered to be unfair if the reason, or the main reason, for their dismissal was that they made a “protected disclosure”.
Everyone has the right to work free of unlawful discrimination or harassment. But this does not always happen. Sexual harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of unlawful discrimination and it can impact every business and every person. Many laws have been passed to try and stamp out sexual harassment, and over the last few decades, courts have been taking ever harsher measures against companies that fail to prevent harassment in their workplaces.
VinciWorks has released four online video courses that are relevant for all staff, with an additional hour of training for all managers and supervisors.
Harassment video training 1: Definitions
This course takes users through the common phrases and legal definitions of sexual harassment. It describes the two major forms of sexual harassment, the legal background, important cases, hypothetical scenarios, quizzes and learning assessments. By the end of this course, users will understand the important definitions of sexual harassment.
Last year, we released a new harassment course that was inspired by the #MeToo movement. The interactive, story-based course brings to life the real impact of bullying and harassment at work through hard-hitting stories, connects users to a global movement, and gives them a chance to have their story heard too.
We have now released a new linear version of the sexual harassment course. The new course takes users through four key sections, with questions along the way to test users’ knowledge and understanding of the topic. The course is fully compliant with US federal and local harassment laws.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers can be held legally responsible for sexual harassment of their staff at work, if the harassment is carried out by a colleague and the employer did not take all steps they could to prevent the harassment from happening.
Whilst the government considers this law effective, it has recognised the issues and deficiencies highlighted by the #MeToo movement in recent years.
Today is the deadline for reporting the gender pay gap. If you are a private organisation or charity with 250 or more employees, then you must report your 2018 gender pay gap figures to the Government Equalities Office by today. Failure to comply can lead to enforcement action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as a potentially unlimited fine. Businesses are also required to publish those figures on their website by midnight. This is the second year that organisations are required to report their gender pay gap following changes to the Equality Act.
Last year, data on the gender pay gap submitted showed women in 78% of organisations in the UK were paid more than women, and that there is no sector where, on average, women are paid more than men. With 25%, the construction sector had the worst average gender pay gap. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will hope that the requirement to submit and make publicly available gender pay gaps will help encourage fairness and equality across all sectors.
Friday 8 March 2019 is International Women’s Day. Over the years the day has increased in significance as reports of harassment against women and workplace inequality continue to headline the news. Over the past 12 months, VinciWorks has collected accounts of people who have experienced or been witness to harassment or workplace inequality. The stories have been shared via our anti-harassment training with the full consent of the author, with their real name replaced to protect them.
It started in the interview. He asked if I was married, then if I had a boyfriend, then he just kind of smiled. The day after I started, he came over to me and sat on my desk, asked me how things were going, and that if I needed anything I could always ask. He said, ‘I’ve got my eye on you.’
Then the text messages started. ‘How was your day? What are you doing at the weekend?’ At 10pm, 11pm, after midnight even. One night I just ignored him and came in early to avoid seeing him in the carpark. But he was there waiting for me at my desk. Eventually I asked someone why he was doing this. She just shrugged and warned me that if I wanted to stay, I better not ignore him.
It really wore me down, the constant messages. I became afraid of my phone in case he would send something, afraid to look and see who it was. I did talk to HR, but they told me to ignore it. I specifically remember they said to me: ‘so you want every man who winks at a women to be afraid of the lawyers?’ As if his behaviour is my fault. Like I’m the one who has to respect his right to treat me like less than a human. And it’s not like this is happening on the street from a random stranger, this is someone who can decide on my career advancement, my salary, who can fire me.
In a recent article published by QBE insurance group on the risks that law firms should look out for in 2019, our Director for Legal Services Pip Johnson shared her insights together with other compliance experts.
Pip flagged the Fifth Money Laundering Directive, which must be implemented into national regulations by this time next year. While the Fifth Directive is not as extensive as the Fourth Directive that came into force in 2017, there are still some changes to take on by the beginning of 2020. These changes include the regulation of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, with some firms already having been asked to accept cryptocurrency payments. The Fifth Directive will also see enhanced due diligence requirements. Of course, Pip also discussed the effect Brexit could have on UK lawyers, with the UK due to implement its own Sanctions regime.
Other key takeaways from the interview:
EU Council Directive 2018/822, (DAC 6), that came into force last June requiring intermediaries involved in cross border tax transactions to retain details of potentially tax advantageous matters
An expected increase of comlaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for GDPR breaches
The upcoming reformed SRA Handbook and the new Accounts Rules
How Brexit could effect the UK’s laws and regulations and how they apply to UK law firms
We are now all-too familiar with stories of employees being sexually harassed or bullied at work and keeping quiet for several years in order to keep their job, or for fear of being shamed. Worryingly, the issue of being “silenced” is not unique to harassment alone. A study by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows that around 11% of women have been fired, made redundant or treated so badly they were left with no choice but to leave as a result of being pregnant or giving birth. Over 20% said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working.
In her second installment in a series on whistleblowing, Director of U.S. Compliance Sandra Erez explores the extent to which whistleblowing methods have changed over the years. She also shares insights on how whistleblowing portals can be utilised to allow staff to easily and anonymously report suspicious or inappropriate behaviour.
Sandra takes a deep dive into the history books, starting with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis whereby the White House installed its very first hotline to “help reduce the risk of war occurring by accident or miscalculation”. The article reminds us of how whistleblowing methods have developed over time, including whistleblowing being included in legislation in the passing of the 2008 Dodd-Frank Act, further motivating employees to blow the whistle on suspected fraud and misconduct.
The Lawyer recently published an article highlighting some of the biggest City law firms’ lack of effort in combatting workplace harassment and bullying. In the article, these large firms are criticised for only doing the minimum, if that, to ensure workplace harassment does not go unnoticed and unidentified. When faced by The Lawyer with the question of how many people have been dismissed for inappropriate behaviour in the past year, many firms avoided answering the question.