In no small part prompted by the #MeToo campaign, measures are afoot to strengthen protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. As part of this the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has recently published guidance to help workers and employers understand the extent and impact of different types of harassment in the workplace, the legal obligations in this area and best practice for effective prevention and response.
The guidance, billed as "the authoritative and comprehensive guide to the law and best practice in tackling harassment", is a user friendly and practical overview that employers are well advised not to ignore. It comes with seven steps that employers should consider taking to prevent and deal with harassment in the workplace. While employment tribunals are not obliged to take the guidance into account, it may well be used in proceedings as evidence of best practice, and the EHRC has said that it will form the basis for the promised statutory code, which employers will have to act on when it is introduced.
In the meantime, the seven steps that the EHRC are recommending employers take to prevent sexual harassment in particular (but applicable to other forms of harassment too) are:
- Develop an effective anti-harassment policy. Most employers are likely to already have a policy in place but, even if they do, would be well advised to review it as some of the recommended content is new.
- Engage with staff on the issue. This can include running staff surveys, conducting interviews and making sure staff are aware of the employer's harassment procedures.
- Conduct a risk assessment and consider steps that can be taken to minimise the risk of harassment occurring.
- Consider using an independent reporting system, such as a telephone helpline or online service.
- Implement a new or update any existing training programmes to ensure it covers what sexual harassment looks like in the workplace, what to do if an individual experiences or witnesses it and how to properly handle complaints.
- Make sure complaints are acted on promptly and confidentially.
- Consider what steps can be taken to prevent harassment by a third party, such as a client or customer.