Thu 19 Aug 2021

Duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace to be introduced

Protection from third party harassment also to be introduced but extension of time limit for claims still under consideration

While sexual harassment has been unlawful for decades, movements, including #MeToo, have highlighted that it is something that continues in the workplace today for a significant number of people.  Following a report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee ("WESC") the UK Government undertook a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace in 2019.  The UK Government response has now been published, and the headline from that is that a new duty for employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace is to be introduced "as soon as parliamentary time allows". 

Most respondents to the consultation had been in favour of introducing a new duty to encourage employers to be more proactive in dealing with the problem. 

In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission are to develop a code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work - this is something that the WESC report had recommended.  The UK Government also intends to support the strategic enforcement action that the ECHR are already able to take and to discuss with them the scope for further action in this area. 

The consultation response also includes a commitment by the UK Government to introduce a duty to prevent third-party harassment. Unlike the duty to prevent sexual harassment which will be introduced "as soon as parliamentary time allows", this duty will be introduced "when parliamentary time allows" which may indicate a longer lead in time for it.

There has been a concerted push from a number of campaigners to have the time limit for lodging claims before an Employment Tribunal under the Equality Act 2010 extended.  While no final decision has been made on this, the UK Government has undertaken to look closely at this.  If there is to be an extension, the most likely outcome will be an increase from 3 to 6 months for making a claim. 

For all that these are undoubtedly positive steps, the lack of clarity on timescales for their introduction may mean that we will have some time yet to wait before they are in place.


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