Sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace has been unlawful for decades, but the rise of the #MeToo movement, amongst other things, has led to greater reporting of this form of harassment. The government has commented on a consultation on this topic and has indicated an intention to introduce new laws to include:

  • a duty requiring employers to prevent sexual harassment, designed to encourage employers into taking positive proactive steps to make the workplace safer for everyone
  • explicit protections from third-party harassment
  • extending the time limit for bringing Equality Act 2010 based cases to the employment tribunal from three months to six months. This is in recognition of the fact that the current limit of three months can be too short a timeframe within which to bring a sexual harassment claim.

All of the commitments made as a result of this consultation will apply to Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland). Those which require legislative changes will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

These changes are not yet enshrined in legislation. However, the number of sexual harassment allegations is unlikely to decrease in the coming years and those reported to the police are likely to increase. This means that employers should ensure that they are properly prepared to promptly and thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual harassment or similar misconduct.

The adverse consequences to a business of getting such an investigation wrong could be considerable in addition to the negative impact on the affected employee.

Accordingly, employers should consider taking early specialist advice as to their existing policies and procedures which could be updated to take account of the proposed changes. As all employers will be aware, any significant change requires adequate training and time for any new processes to properly embed. Employers may decide that now is an appropriate time to get ahead of the curve.

To discuss this or any other employment matter, please contact us.