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Tackling sexual harassment in the workplace: latest recommendations for employers

Posted on 22 October 2021

A new Fawcett Society report highlights the ongoing prevalence of workplace sexual harassment, and recommends key practical actions for employers to take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment issues. It comes at a time when the UK Government has committed to implementing a new positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment.

Key findings: the ongoing prevalence of sexual harassment

The Fawcett Society's Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace report highlights the extent to which sexual harassment remains a day-to-day feature of the workplace:

  • at least 40% of women have experienced workplace harassment over the course of their career;
  • 45% of the women surveyed reported experiencing online harassment, with over 23% saying that online harassment had increased or escalated whilst they have been working from home since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic;
  • 68% of disabled women reported being sexually harassed at work (compared to 52% of women in general);
  • 32% of ethnic minority workers (men and women) reported instances of sexual harassment (compared to 28% of white workers); and
  • 68% of the LGBT workers surveyed had experienced some form of harassment in the workplace.

What can employers do?

The report recommends five key steps for employers to take to foster a workplace that does not tolerate sexual harassment:

  1. Change the culture of the workplace by improving equality, diversity and inclusion, particularly at senior levels; proactively communicating that sexual harassment is unacceptable; and conducting a 'climate survey' of the current status of sexual harassment in the workplace.
  2. Implement a clear and comprehensive sexual harassment policy which is regularly communicated and advertised to all employees, and where the employer follows through on reported instances of sexual harassment.
  3. Arrange anti-sexual harassment training which is appropriately tailored and includes information on how to prevent sexual harassment, how to report it and how managers should respond to any such report.
  4. Establish robust and accessible reporting mechanisms comprising both formal and informal avenues, which allow employees to select a route that works best for them, and which they feel safe using.
  5. Respond to reports of sexual harassment in a manner which demonstrates that reports are taken seriously and are handled by the employer both sensitively and appropriately.

The Fawcett Society's report highlights not just the moral imperative with tackling sexual harassment, but also the high long-term business costs for employers who fail to do so. These costs include damage to productivity, reputation and workplace culture, as well as high staff turnover and absenteeism. Employers looking to ensure they are well placed both to deal with these issues and to comply with the anticipated legislative changes in this area may wish to review their policies and practices in light of the report.

If you would like more information on how best to tackle and prevent sexual harassment in your business, please get in touch with any member of the Employment team.

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