MPs have launched an inquiry into workplace sexual harassment to discover how employers and the Government could better protect staff.
The Women and Equalities Committee will look at the extent of the problem, who the perpetrators are, why it happens and what should be done to tackle sexual harassment.
The committee wants to find out what actions the Government and employers should take to change workplace culture and encourage staff to report sexual harassment from colleagues, customers and clients.
It will also examine the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases and what can be done to prevent their misuse.
The use of NDAs came under scrutiny last month after women were asked to sign a contract, without the opportunity to review its contents, before the Presidents Club charity gala.
The inquiry will also look at tribunals and other routes of dispute resolution, and whether improvements needed to be made to increase their effectiveness.
Maria Miller, chair of the committee, said: “Over the past few months there have been widespread reports of women’s appalling experiences of sexual harassment at work.
“Our recent evidence session [on 31 January] with legal experts, employees and employers representatives painted a stark picture.
“Clearly much more needs to be done, both by Government and employers: this inquiry is about identifying solutions.”
During an evidence session last month, Neil Carberry, managing director of people and infrastructure at the CBI, said businesses were “too male” at senior levels, which led to “embedded culture” going unreported.
“What are we looking for from businesses? We are looking for clear approaches, policies being well communicated and creating an environment where reporting is encouraged. It is of deep concern to our members that so much harassment goes unreported,” he said.
Christine Payne, general secretary for actors and performers trade union Equity, said employees need to be given the confidence to report sexual harassment: “That means not just having the correct procedures in place and having people trained to properly deal with preventing sexual harassment and with allegations of it.
“They really have to create a space, a safe working environment, where workers feel confident that they can report and that, when they do report, it will be taken seriously and properly investigated.”
Nick Evans, employment lawyer at law firm Fletcher Day, said: “The courts already take a dim view of employers trying to use non-disclosure agreements, or gagging clauses as they are commonly known, to cover up sexual harassment allegations.”
He continued: “Responsible employers will continue to do their utmost to protect their staff. There are legitimate reasons why a business may use a NDA but we expect to see a full-scale review of their use as a result of this inquiry. Further, in terms of widespread or systematic wrongdoing where disclosure is in the public interest, ‘whistleblower’ protection will override any NDA.”