Government consults on tackling workplace harassment

4 mins

Posted on 17 Jul 2019

The Government has launched a consultation on how best to tackle sexual harassment at work.  This follows publication of its gender equality roadmap earlier this month. It is considering whether to introduce a duty on employers to prevent harassment at work, whether to introduce protection against third party harassment and whether to extend the three month time limit for bringing discrimination and harassment claims to six months. It is also looking at whether it should extend discrimination laws to protect interns and volunteers. The consultation closes on 2 October 2019. 

How is the government planning to change its approach to the prevention of sexual harassment?

The Government is seeking views on how it can make employers respect and prioritise the prevention of sexual harassment. It is considering introducing a new duty which would require employers to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment at work. It plans to introduce a statutory code of practice which will clarify what employers would need to do to discharge the duty. Work on this is already underway. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission would be able to enforce a duty to prevent harassment without an individual having to bring an employment tribunal claim. The Government is considering whether individuals should also be able to enforce the duty and, if so, whether they must have suffered harassment or whether they can bring a claim on grounds of breach of the duty alone.  

The Government is also considering financial penalties for breach of the duty, without having to show financial loss.This could be along the lines of the TUPE protective award of 13 weeks’ gross pay. 

The Government is considering an alternative or additional option of requiring organisations to report on prevention and resolution policies publicly, with board sign-off. This could be combined with requirements for internal monitoring and reporting of the number of harassment complaints and/or the number of staff who have left citing problems with harassment or wider culture in their exit interviews.    

What are the proposed changes in regards to harassment by third parties?

The Government wants to make it clear that employers are liable for harassment of their workers by third parties. It is considering introducing new protections.  

Previous laws required two prior incidents of harassment before an employer was liable on the third occasion. The Government is seeking views on whether liability should depend on previous incidents of harassment and, if so, how many? Also, if liability depends on a previous incident, should the employer only be liable if it knows of the incident or is it sufficient that it ought to have known of it?   

The Government also seeks views on whether employers should have a defence if they took all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from happening. 

What approach will the consolation take on protecting interns and volunteers?

The consultation seeks views on whether the law should protect interns and volunteers against harassment. 

Interns are likely protected already due to their employment status but the Government is considering giving them express protection.  

The law does not currently protect volunteers.The Government asks whether the law should protect volunteers, and, if so, whether it should protect those volunteering under informal arrangements as well as formal ones. It is also considering whether there should be any exemptions for small employers or employers that are entirely volunteer-led.

What will be the impact of the consolation on the time limit for new claims?

The Government is considering whether to extend the three month time limit for bringing claims under the Equality Act to six months. It considers that any extension should apply to all claims, not just those for sexual harassment and pregnancy and maternity discrimination. It seeks views on this.   

The consultation closes on 2 October 2019. 

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