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Will new code of conduct on sexual harassment be helpful?

David Scott
sexual harassment

Sexual harassment has been outlawed in the workplace since 1975 when the Sex Discrimination Act was first introduced. It was refined by the Equality Act in 2010. Contributor David Scott, Senior Associate in the Employment team – Hethertons Solicitors.

It might have been expected that employers and employees ought to know what was expected in the workplace. What this shows is that law on its own cannot change behaviours. The Code can only help to guide. However, it will need a serious response by everyone in the workplace to make a difference.

Is it needed or are most workplaces compliant?
We know that at least 40 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.  There is clearly an issue that has to be addressed.

Is this a direct reaction to the press of #MeToo or something that has been a long time coming
Whilst this has clearly been a long time coming, I believe that this is definitely a reaction to the #MeToo campaign.  Those individuals who have taken part should be congratulated for bringing this to the forefront of the attention of the government.

Should/Could the Government be doing more to tackle sexual harassment?
The government needs to address the issue of third-party harassment after It was repealed on 1st October 2013. It provided protection from harassment by others who are not the employer.  The Presidents Club meal in 2018 showed that poor behaviour by guests at an event could happen with little or no penalty.

The announcement mentions non-disclosure agreements. Are these helpful to employers or open to abuse in order to hide bad PR?
Non-disclosure clauses are normal in many legal agreements covering a host of matters. They are, however, potentially open to abuse by an employer who may still be in a position of power over an employee.  The question could be is there any adequate payment for the non-disclosure clause.  Solicitors advising the employee need to take the lead on this and insist that more than a nominal payment is made for this so that it is clear and transparent – so real choices can be made.

Are those affected by sexual harassment in the workplace already offered enough protection?
There is protection available for those who suffer sexual harassment – but the process can be difficult, long, stressful and expensive. Ensuring the issues don’t arise in the first place and addressing them quickly and adequately is the key – not just more legislation and regulation.

Training by ACAS and Equality and Human Rights Committee is to be welcomed.  However, this focus on training needs to be implemented into the workplace as the right thing to do, not just a ‘box-ticking’ exercise to avoid risk.

What issues should the Government look to be tackling in particular?
The government should also be considering whether more financial support can be given to those making a claim by providing more funding for claims through a network of lawyers approved by the Equality and Human Rights Committee.

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