Introduce sexual harassment duties on employers, campaign urges

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Unions, women’s rights organisations and charities have increased pressure on the government to make employers responsible for protecting their staff against sexual harassment.

The “This is not working” alliance has reiterated calls for new legislation that puts the responsibility for tackling inappropriate behaviour at work on employers. The government is expected to launch a consultation on addressing sexual harassment soon.

The alliance – which is formed of 20 organisations including the TUC, Business in the Community, the Fawcett Society and Unison – has launched a petition that demands an “easily enforceable” legal duty on employers to take “reasonable steps” to protect their staff.

If its recommendation is taken forward, a new duty would be supported with a code of practice, mandatory training for staff and managers, and clear workplace policies on harassment.

The petition says: “Our laws rely on individuals reporting but #ThisIsNotWorking. The onus is on the victim to report – which can be isolating, confusing and potentially traumatic. Four out of five don’t feel able to report sexual harassment to their employer. It should not be down to the individual to prevent and manage their harassment alone.”

Last week the International Labour Organization agreed to a treaty on violence and harassment, which will require ILO members (including the UK) to protect workers against sexual harassment.

According to research commissioned by the TUC earlier this year, 52% of women and 68% of LGBT people have experienced sexually harassment at work. Eight in 10 (79%) women affected do not feel able to report it to their employer, which allows harassment to continue without consequence for the perpetrator.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s shocking that in 2019 so many people experience sexual harassment and assault while at work.

“The government must strengthen the law to put responsibility for preventing harassment on employers. This would shift the burden of tackling sexual harassment away from individuals. And it would help end toxic workplace cultures that silence those who’ve been harassed.

“We’re calling on everyone who want to stop sexual harassment at work to join us and call on ministers to take action.”

The Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said: “Everyone is entitled to dignity and respect at work. Sexual harassment has no place in any workplace.”

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