Despite the general election on 4 July, the UK is already going to get new sexual harassment laws. The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 will come into force in October 2024.

The Worker Protection Act 2023 is not as strong as Labour had wanted, but it does place some new duties on employers regarding their sexual harassment prevention policies and practices.

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What is a positive workplace culture?

A positive workplace culture is an environment where employees feel valued, respected, and supported. It is a culture where employees are motivated to do their best work, feel a sense of belonging, and have a clear understanding of the organisation’s mission, values, and goals. Positive workplace culture also includes open communication, trust, and collaboration among employees, as well as a sense of accountability and a focus on achieving common goals. A positive culture can lead to increased employee satisfaction, loyalty, and motivation, which can contribute to success for the organisation.

How to create a positive workplace culture

According to the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority), a positive workplace culture is essential for the well-being and effectiveness of solicitors and their firms. The new guidance that the SRA has published on how firms can promote a positive workplace culture includes doing the following:

Encouraging a respectful and inclusive environment 

Firms should aim to create a culture where everyone feels valued, respected and able to contribute. This includes promoting diversity and inclusion, and addressing any instances of discrimination or harassment.

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Recently, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) issued new detailed guidance for how regulated firms must handle different situations related to sexual misconduct. The guidance comes after years of increasing complaints of misconduct within the sector. 

The guidance is intended to clarify the SRA’s expectations for what is acceptable workplace behaviour, the way firms handle reports of sexual misconduct, and when regulatory action is needed. It lays out a model for understanding the way the regulator thinks about which types of actions require intervention.

Try our course – Sexual Misconduct: Understanding the SRA Guidance

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Domestic abuse can take many different forms and is not always easy to spot – in fact, even the person on the receiving end may not recognise it for what it is. There can be many reasons why people experiencing domestic abuse are reluctant to speak up or seek help, from fears around their personal safety to concerns about being judged by their friends and family, employer or colleagues.

With many people working from home for a protracted period during the Covid pandemic, instances of domestic abuse have increased dramatically and had a devastating impact both on employees’ physical and mental health and on their performance at work. Being able to spot where domestic abuse may be occurring and taking appropriate action to protect and support their staff is therefore a crucial aspect of employers’ duty of care. 

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People can be marginalised for many different reasons. This is often because they have a particular characteristic and are oppressed because of it. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, religious hatred, sexism, misogyny, ageism, and ableism are all forms of oppression which can marginalise someone.

Allyship is a process of building relationships with marginalised people and standing in solidarity with them. Allyship takes work. It requires active efforts to create trust, be consistent, and be accountable. 

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Third party harassment and extension of timelines to bring a claim also included in a new package of measures

The government’s long-awaited legislative response to MeToo has been laid out. The response to the 2018 consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace spells out sweeping plans to extend ‘failure to prevent’ laws already on the books for bribery and tax evasion to sexual harassment.

Women and Equalities minister Liz Truss, said: 

“We will be providing further protections to employees who are the victims of sexual harassment, whilst also furnishing employers with the motivation and support to put in place practises and policies which respond to the needs of their organisation.”

The package of measures will include a new preventative duty on employers, a duty to protect employees from sexual harassment by third parties such as customers, criminalisation of street harassment, a statutory code of practice for employers on how to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, and potentially extending the time allowed to bring a sexual harassment case to an employment tribunal from three to six months. 

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Everyone has the right to work free of unlawful discrimination or harassment, but unfortunately 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. Following the PRC’s release of new obligations aimed at preventing sexual harassment, VinciWorks will soon be releasing a new course aimed at raising awareness of the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment, harassment, and bullying in the workplace. The course complies with the sexual harassment obligations in force as of 1 January 2020 contained in Article 1010 of the Civil Code of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国民法典).

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Sexual harassment and privacy rules in force in 2021

Effective as of January 1, 2021, Article 1010 of the Civil Code obliges companies to adopt measures for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. This means employers have a duty to take action against sexual harassment. This includes:

  • Having a channel to complain about sexual harassment
  • Having a procedure for investigating complaints
  • Having rules to discipline wrongdoers

What does the law say?

Article 1010 of the Code stipulates that:

“Where a person sexually harasses another person against his or her will through verbal behavior, words, images, physical behavior, or other forms, the victim has the right to request the perpetrator to assume civil liability according to the law.

Government agencies, enterprises, schools and other entities shall take reasonable measures of prevention, acceptance of complaints, investigation and handling, so as to prevent and cease sexual harassment conducted by violators by making use of their powers, supervisor/subordinate relationships, etc.”

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Recent events have once again highlighted racism and grave injustices towards people of colour, accentuating the need for both continued and renewed introspection and action to fight against racism. Sadly, these issues still exist in our world.

“Racism is a global issue. Racism is a British issue. It is not one that is merely confined to the United States – it is everywhere, and it is systemic,” wrote Edward Enninful, the editor-in-chief of British Vogue, who is black. Systemic racism is trending, but we only have to listen to stories of black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) people to understand that systemic racism is far from a fad.

As businesses think hard about whether they are doing enough to educate their staff on diversity, we have seen an increase over the last few weeks in demand for diversity training. We have added a new course to our existing diversity and inclusion training suite. Complementing our current story-based diversity course, Diversity and Inclusion at Work: MyStory, our new course will shed light on instances of discrimination, racism and bias against BAME people all too frequently experienced by people in the workplace through hard-hitting stories.

Demo the course

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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”.

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