Experts dismiss alarmist take on harassment law

Employers should not be concerned by “alarmist reports” about changes to sex discrimination laws, according to HR consultancy Croner.
New sexual harassment legislation, aimed at tackling discrimination in the workplace, came into force on 1 October.

The European Equal Treatment Directive has extended the definition of sex discrimination to cover any act that leads to intimidation or degradation.

Now an employee who persists in making remarks about a woman’s appearance could be accused of sexual harassment.

Rex Garratt, national spokesman for the Forum of Private Business, which represents more than 25,000 employers, complained that the changes favoured employees. He said employers would view the changes with a sense of “utter dread”.

But Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner, said the changes were only minimal and simply clarified the existing law, rather than introducing any new stipulations.

“Most business owners and HR professionals should be reassured that they will already be operating within the law and that these minor amendments will have no material effect on the running of their business,” said Smith.

Employers should ensure they have an equal opportunities policy in place, he said.

“They could see it as an opportunity to review current policies and practices and ensure they are complying and working towards best practice,” he added.

Public duty consultation launched

The government has launched a consultation document on introducing a duty for the public sector to promote gender equality.

Meg Munn, deputy minister for women and equality, said proposals laid out in Advancing Equality for Men and Women would help the public sector ensure it “leads the way in rights and attitudes when it comes to gender equality”.

Under the proposals, the public sector will have to:

  • draw up and publish an equality scheme – this should identify gender equality goals and show what steps the authority will take to implement them
  • develop and publish a policy on equal pay arrangements -including measures to ensure fair promotion and development opportunities and to tackle occupational segregation
  • ensure the impact of any changes are assessed and the findings published.

See the consultation document go to

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