firm news

Emma O'Connor
Emma O'Connor,
"Sexual harassment is rife across all of our industries"...
16 January 2018

We have all seen the headlines, which continue to dominate the news, regarding high profile public figures and allegations of sexual misconduct. Now the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath, has stepped in with a damning summary of the state of UK attitudes to sexual harassment at work:

“Sexual harassment is rife across all of our industries. We accept it far too easily, in terms of the culture we live in. Accountability lies with leadership.”

In December 2017, the Equality and Human Rights Commission wrote to the chairs of all FTSE 100 companies to warn them that it would take legal action over what it called “systemic failings” in the area of equality and harassment protections. It also reminded them of their legal responsibilities for the “safety and dignity” of their employees and also asked them to provide evidence of the safeguards they have in place to prevent sexual harassment together with how employees could report allegations (without fear of reprisals). 

Leading retailers including Asda and the Co-op, leading universities, police forces, media companies (with a high number of interns) and companies which rely upon agency staff, such as hotels, were also contacted by the Commission. Employers have been set a deadline of January 19 to respond to the letter.

Emma O’Connor, Head of Training at Boyes Turner, writes:

“Sexual harassment, its effects and the risks to employers are not simply “Hollywood” or a FTSE 100 issue. In recent years, prioritising prevention of sexual harassment at work has perhaps given way to other more pressing business concerns. However, what these high profile cases and the intervention of the EHRC do show is that employers cannot afford to sit back and hope a claim does not arise. Claims for harassment come with a hefty price tag in terms of compensation but also damage to all the individuals involved – including the organisation.

Action needs to be taken now to show that such behaviour is not tolerated and that equality and diversity is safeguarded. Also, employees have to feel that they can come forward without fear of reprisal. We have listened to HR’s concerns about where to start with ensuring that harassment is put back on the agenda. That is why we are running a specific course focusing on the issues of sexual harassment from both a legal and practical perspective. Do you understand the difference between harassment and sexual harassment in the legislation? Do you have policies in place that recognise that sexual harassment doesn’t just take place face to face but over social media? Do your managers know what is expected on them? Join me and my colleagues to focus on this important of issues. This is a leadership issue and should be considered as such.”

Our “Sexual Harassment – What Employers Need to Know” course aimed at HR professionals, in-house lawyers and senior leaders is running on 25 January 2018, 09.30-12.30 from our Reading office (speak to us about booking discounts).

The course is run in a small group to allow you to ask the questions you want answered of our special employment lawyers. Contact us through our website or on [email protected] to book your place. Want to run this course in-house? Speak to us.  

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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