225: EHRC updated guidance on harassment at work
On 15 January 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published updated technical guidance on sexual harassment and other forms of harassment at work. This detailed guidance aims to improve understanding of the extent and impact of harassment, and to set out best practice for effective prevention and response by employers. Employment Tribunals are not obliged to take the guidance into account since it is not a statutory code but, where relevant, it may still be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
The EHRC has also published a separate shorter guide to highlight the basic measures employers must take to prevent sexual harassment. This sets out seven action points, taken from the more detailed technical guidance, which will help ensure that employers comply with their legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment:
- develop an effective anti-harassment policy;
- engage staff to ensure that they are aware of the policy, how they can report sexual harassment and the consequences of breaching the policy;
- assess and take steps to reduce the risk of sexual harassment, for example, by considering power imbalances within the workforce, or minimising the risks for staff who have to work alone;
- consider a reporting system that allows workers to raise issues anonymously or in name;
- train workers on what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like, what to do if they experience it, and how to handle any complaints;
- ensure that managers know what to do if a complaint is made; and
- ensure that harassment by a third party, such as a customer, client, patient or supplier, is taken just as seriously as harassment by a colleague.
The Government Equalities Office has recently launched a survey on experiences of sexual harassment in the UK which will be sent to 12,200 individuals from all walks of life. This aims to help build a picture of how many people are affected and it asks about their experiences inside and outside the workplace and the forms of harassment they have suffered.
Further initiatives are likely to be confirmed when the government responds to its July 2019 consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace which received nearly 5,000 responses. Employers are advised to review their anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies in the light of this new guidance, with a view to ensuring that workers are fully protected from all forms of harassment and the risk of claims is minimised.