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. 

New duty for employers to prevent sexual harassment

An employer’s duty to prevent means every organisation will have to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment. Although specific legislative plans have not yet been published, this is likely to mean the employer themselves could face criminal charges if they fail to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. An employers’ defence to such a charge would be to demonstrate they had taken all reasonable steps, such as detailed risk assessments, strong policies and procedures, and detailed training.

Under the laws on failure to prevent tax evasion, there is no requirement for someone to have been convicted of tax evasion for a failure to prevent prosecution to be successful against the company they work for. Similarly, with the Bribery Act’s failure to prevent clause, a business can be liable for bribery that it fails to prevent abroad.

The stated aims of the legislation are to have a positive effect on workplace culture more broadly, so the ‘all reasonable steps’ requirement is likely to demand a concerted effort to understand workplace culture, assess it for risk of sexual harassment, and invest in making positive changes.

The proposed code of practice for employers, which has been discussed for several years, is likely to clamp down on non-disclosure agreements, require reporting systems, have effective anti-harassment policies, and deliver ongoing training.

What are the next steps for employers?

Here are some steps employers can take to comply with the duty to prevent sexual harassment in the UK:

  1. Review and update policies.
  2. Develop a clear reporting procedure.
  3. Communicate policies and procedures effectively.
  4. Provide training and education.
  5. Investigate and respond promptly to reports.
  6. Support victims and provide resources.
  7. Monitor and review policies and procedures regularly.

VinciWorks’ diversity & anti-harassment resources

VinciWorks has a suite of anti-sexual harassment policies, surveys, courses and best practice guidance to help you get compliant, and ensure you’re taking ‘all reasonable steps’ when the duty to prevent comes into force.

Diversity & anti-harassment resources

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