Following a consultation in 2019 on sexual harassment in the workplace, the government has finally announced that it will introduce a specific duty on employers requiring them to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent it.

Although it acknowledges that the law on its own can be a blunt instrument, the government has made it clear that introducing the duty “is an important and symbolic first step”. It argues that a focus on preventative action provides a clear signal that employers must take a comprehensive approach to tackling sexual harassment.

In order to ensure that a preventative duty has the desired effect, the government says it will support the Equality and Human Rights Commission - the statutory body with responsibility for enforcing equality legislation – in developing a statutory code of practice, as well as guidance for employers outlining the practical steps that they can take.

In addition to the introduction of a legal duty, the government announced that it will introduce explicit protections from harassment by third parties, such as customers and clients. It is also considering extending the time allowed to bring Equality Act based cases to employment tribunals from three to six months. As with all the other proposals, despite the length of time it has taken them to even respond to the consultation, the government has only committed to doing so “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

Research clearly shows that legislation is long overdue. According to a poll by the TUC in 2016, more than half of women (52 per cent) had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. A further survey in 2019 found that nearly seven in 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people (68 per cent) reported being sexually harassed at work.

And in a poll just published, the TUC found that around seven in 10 disabled women (68 per cent) said they had been sexually harassed at work. Younger disabled women (aged 18 to 34) are even more likely to have experienced sexual harassment, with almost eight out of 10 (78 per cent) reporting that they had been harassed at work.

To read the consultation response in full, click here.  

To read the TUC’s latest findings on sexual harassment in the workplace, click here.