Sexual Harassment at Work - Make a Change or Nothing Changes

Author:
Thomas Schofield
Trainee Solicitor
Date:
28/06/2019

By now most people know that your employer has a duty to protect you from physical harm in the workplace. Appallingly, even though the law in England and Wales recognises the dangers of and harm caused by sexual harassment, it’s for the victim to report any abuse, not for an employer to prevent it from happening in the first place.

We live in politically correct world, so surely sexual harassment must be rare?

Sadly this is not the case. In 2016 the TUC conducted studies and found out that more than half of working women had suffered some form of sexual harassment at work. The harassment ranged from sexual comments and inappropriate jokes to unwanted sexual advances and touching. 

The TUC conducted a further study this year and found that more than 2 out of 3 LGBT people have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

You can take action against sexual harassment, so what’s the problem?

In March 2019 it was widely publicised that the Head of Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin CBE, was forced to step down as the CEO following a public petition to “end harassment at Ted Baker”. The petition attracted over 2,000 signatures and the Board of Directors effectively fired Mr Kelvin due to his forced hugging ‘policy’. It’s doubtful that if the company was smaller or less well known the same result would have occurred.

Although people who have suffered sexual harassment at work are protected by law and can bring a claim for compensation, or go public with it, most people who suffer sexual harassment don’t report it. Most times the abuser will be someone’s boss, someone with more power than them in their workplace. Most people do not want to be in a confrontation, especially when it affects their livelihood.

The main reasons for not coming forwards are the fear that you won’t be believed, or that if you complain you’ll be out of work and struggling to support yourself.

What is more, there are no national guidelines on sexual harassment in the workplace, meaning there is no consistency. Some employers might be fantastic at dealing with sexual harassment, but others will not be.

This means sexual harassment at work can go unchecked for a long time, allowing the abuser to continue their revolting behaviour and potentially abusing even more people.

Change is Overdue - Let’s End This 

Last week the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted a new global standard that will introduce an international set of rules to prevent and deal with violence and harassment in the workplace. The UK would have to sign up to this before it would be binding, but if they do the government will have to develop national laws prohibiting workplace violence and harassment.

On Monday 24th June 2019 a group of prominent women’s and LGBT rights groups, and trade unions launched a petition to:

  • Place a duty on employers to prevent workplace harassment
  • Introduce a compulsory code of conduct
  • Have mandatory training for staff and managers, and
  • Have penalties for those who don’t comply.

The petition has already received over 8,000 signatures (including my own) under the hashtag of #ThisIsNotWorking

HM Government will be launching a consultation into workplace harassment and the above movements will play an important role in helping people understand the impact sexual harassment has, and that it should not just be a matter of stopping it once it has happened but preventing it in the first place. 

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