The EHRC has published technical guidance on sexual harassment and harassment at work. This will form the basis of a statutory Code of Practice that will be laid before Parliament once the government responds to last year's consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace.
The guidance deals with the definitions of harassment and victimisation and an employer's obligations and liabilities under the Equality Act, including in relation to third party harassment. These sections are generally clear and helpful.
However, the section that is likely to be of particular interest to employers relates to the practical steps they can (and the guidance suggests should) take to prevent and respond to harassment. These are extensive, and the guidance includes sections on:
- Effective policies and procedures;
- Detecting harassment, including the use of reporting systems;
- Addressing power imbalances to prevent harassment;
- Responding to formal and informal harassment complaints and how to deal with situations where workers do not want formal action to be taken;
- How to prevent harassment or victimisation during an investigation; and
- Appropriate steps once a complaint has been dealt with, including the amount of information that should be provided to the complainant.
The guidance recognises that what amount to "all reasonable steps" to prevent harassment will vary according to an employer's size and resources. Large employers in particular should review their existing policies and procedures carefully against the recommendations in the EHRC guidance. Although the technical guidance is not currently binding on tribunals, they can take it into account in relevant cases and it would be sensible to start reviewing existing approaches to harassment before the statutory Code of Practice comes into force. If that is something we can help with, please contact Stefan Martin or Ed Bowyer.
The Government Equality Office has also launched a survey of 12,200 people, asking them about their experiences of sexual harassment. This is designed to allow the public to have an impact on government policy and ensure that policies are targeted in the right places. We expect a response to last year's consultation exercise on sexual harassment in the spring.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.