Breaking the Barriers of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
The recent #MeToo movement has exposed an ever-deepening headline of sexual harassment in the work place, spanning across all industries. Google announced recently it has sacked 48 people, including 13 senior managers, over sexual harassment claims in the past two years.
Are employers doing enough to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace?
Although the movement has brought the awareness in to the public eye and has been hugely positive in encouraging women to talk and report their experiences, there is a fear that employers are not tackling the problem enough when sexual harassment allegations are raised.
A recent survey carried out by Slater and Gordon, of 2,000 women found that almost 37% of women have experienced some sort of harassment themselves, whilst 39% have witnessed a fellow staff member being abused. Only 21% of women felt comfortable enough to come forward about the sexual harassment they had received.
Why are individuals reluctant to report cases of sexual harassment?
These results clearly show there is a glass barrier for women, stopping them from having the courage to speak to their employer. This can be for many reasons such as fear of not being listened to or the manager being the instigator. There have been cases where reporting an incident has made the situation worst for the individual and some women feel reporting any unwanted behaviour may in fact damage their career going forward. The most alarming reason for harassment being unreported is the victim isn’t often in a position, financially or psychologically to bring a claim forward as their experience may have been traumatic.
A rcent report on Good Morning Britain also reported that 64 percent of women had been sexually harassed in public places and 35 percent reporting they have been groped. It seems that sexual harassment is ‘deeply ingrained’ in British culture and it doesn’t just stop in the work place but tackling harassment at work is a prominent starting point.
Currently there is no legal obligation on companies to have an anti-harassment policy, some companies and organisations seem to turn a blind eye to the severity of the problem and in some cases ‘normalise’ inappropriate behaviour by failing to prevent it from happening in the first instance. Making a policy mandatory is a necessary step to closing this gap between the offence occurring and not being reported.
Sexual harassment is unlawful and if employers do not take the reasonable steps this can be taken further with claims and tribunal’s being the outcome. Inappropriate and suggestive comments are also deemed as sexual harassment with 16% of women reported they had been subjected to this behaviour and, one in five suggested this kind of behaviour was the norm in their workplace. Employers policies need to be robust and stringent so there is no excuse for businesses to fail their employees. There are strict policies and regulations on Anti Money Laundering and Data Protection, why would sexual harassment policies not be deemed just as important?
Is there proposed plan to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace?
The Women and Equality Committee have suggested a five-point plan to tackle the issue at work which include;
- A new duty on employers to prevent harassment, supported by a statutory code of practice. This would also ensure that interns, volunteers or those harassed by third parties receive the same legal protection as workplace colleagues.
- Regulators take a more active role by setting out the actions they plan to take to tackle sexual harassment at work and what sanctions will be put in place.
- Making enforcement processes work better for employees, for example by making it easier to bring a tribunal claim. It proposes extending the time limit for bringing a claim and introducing more punitive damages for employers.
- Cleaning up the use of NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements), making it an offence to misuse such clauses and extending whistleblowing protections so employees can disclose to bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
- Collecting robust data on the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace, including the number of tribunal claims that involve sexual harassment complaints.
Carrie-Ann within our Employment Team believes “As a duty of care to staff members, the employer should be appropriately acting to break the glass barrier. It is time to take sexual harassment more seriously. The implementation of policies and procedures will not only act a possible prevention but also encouraging a ‘feel safe’ environment allowing victims to come forward without the repercussions that they currently face or fear they will face”.
Seeking Legal Support on sexual harassment in the workplace
If you find yourself having issues with harassment or would like to be a step ahead and consider policies that could be implemented, contact a member of our Team. Please remember there are strict time limits in Employment claims and you should take good free legal advice as soon as possible.
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