The government is being urged not to lose momentum in its aim to tackle sexual harassment at work.
Six months after the publication of recommendations that centred on the creation of a new duty on organisations to prevent sexual harassment, a UK employment lawyer has said it’s time for action in the form of legislation.
Deborah Casale, employment partner at London law firm Irwin Mitchell, said there was a danger of ministers losing momentum on the issue and a danger that people had assumed the problem had gone away amid the Covid pandemic.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace stated that explicit protections from third party harassment would be introduced. These would entail extending time limit to six months for those bringing sexual harassment cases under the Equality Act 2010, with the premise that the current three months can be too short a timeframe. The measures would apply to England, Wales and Scotland. The new duty on organisations would require legislation; this would be introduced “as soon as parliamentary time allows” the government said.
Liz Truss, women and equality minister (in addition to her latest role as foreign secretary), said at the time: “This package of measures will not only improve protections for those affected by harassment at work, but will also motivate employers to make improvements to workplace practices and culture which will benefit all employees.”
The consultation received responses from more than 130 charities and employers, and over 4,200 members of the public. Over half (54%) of this group said they had experienced harassment at work. Ministers accepted the findings of the report and promised to act, but according to Casale, little has happened in the intervening six months.
“The government’s response last year to its consultation was well received and marked an important step in the right direction for protecting workers and providing clarity for businesses. Despite all the discussions and positive engagement with numerous stakeholders though, we don’t appear to be any further forward. It’s vital that we do not lose momentum or lose sight of how important it is to tackle the issue of workplace sexual harassment.
“The government should also avoid the trap of thinking that the issue is less prevalent because more people are working from home and are more likely to work from home in the future. There have been numerous reports which have looked into how remote working has impacted levels of sexual harassment and some have revealed that the problem in some cases has become worse with perpetrators finding new ways to this target their victims via technology.
“It is important that the government looks to promptly implement its recommendations from the summer of last year.”
A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office told Personnel Today regarding the introduction of legislation, “We cannot confirm an exact date at the moment, but will update when we have more information.”