In the wake of many McDonald’s employees claiming to have been sexually harassed at work there is no surprise that a law will be introduced requiring employers to prevent sexual harassment. The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill is currently making its way through Parliament and is expected to be enacted in early 2024.
Although amendments agreed by the House of Lords to the Worker Protection Bill look likely to be accepted by the government. It seems that employer liability for harassment by third parties will no longer be introduced. The scrapping of the third party harassment provisions does not mean that employers can simply ignore this issue. Under the current law, an employer still risks being liable for discrimination or harassment itself if it ignores complaints about harassment by third parties and continues to put vulnerable employees at risk.
The other key provision in the Bill was a new duty on employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment of employees in the course of their work. The Bill has been amended to remove the word “all” from this provision, meaning the duty is now simply to take “reasonable steps”.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of the adult population have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime. Despite existing protections, it is evident that workplace sexual harassment remains widespread, often goes unreported, and is inadequately addressed by employers. This bill presents a valuable opportunity to strengthen the current safeguards against workplace harassment, and places a proactive responsibility on employers to combat workplace sexual harassment by taking steps to prevent it occurring in the first place.
Managers have a responsibility to create a safe and respectful work environment for all employees. Taking sexual harassment seriously and taking appropriate action to prevent and address it can help to create a positive and inclusive workplace culture. It can also help to retain good employees and avoid costly legal action. If an HR or line manager receives an allegation of sexual harassment from an employee, they should take the following steps:
- Listen to the employee and take their concerns seriously. It is important to create a safe and supportive environment for the employee to speak about their experiences.
- Document the details of the complaint, including the date, time, location, and names of any witnesses or individuals involved. This will be important for any investigation that may follow.
- Assure the employee that the complaint will be treated confidentially and that they will not be subjected to any retaliation for making the complaint.
- Inform the employee of their rights and options, including the right to make a formal complaint and the right to seek support and assistance from external organisations.
- If the employee wishes to make a formal complaint, follow the company’s policy for handling such complaints. This may involve conducting an investigation and taking disciplinary action if the allegations are found to be true.
- Keep the employee informed of the progress of the complaint and any actions taken.
For further information on greater protection against sexual harassment and any other HR issue, please contact us here.