UK Consults on Strengthening Harassment Protections 

UK Consults on Strengthening Harassment Protections
25 July 2019

A UK government consultation on workplace sexual harassment seeks input through 2 Oct 2019 on what further steps employers should take to protect workers. The consultation follows a 2018 parliamentary report on workplace sexual harassment, which highlighted several concerns with the current legislative framework. Although the focus is on sexual harassment, the consultation concerns harassment related to any protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (apart from pregnancy and maternity, and marriage and civil partnership).

The government has separately published outline proposals that would outlaw employers’ use of nondisclosure agreements to cover up discrimination and harassment incidents. In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will publish a new statutory Code of Practice on sexual harassment and workplace harassment for consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. The EHRC will issue a technical guidance note later in 2019 that will provide the basis for the new code.

Highlights of the Consultation

Mandatory duty to protect workers from harassment that could be enforced by the EHRC. The government says it would need to see “compelling evidence” that a duty would be effective. Current law prohibits employers from harassing employees or job applicants, and employers may be vicariously liable for acts of discrimination, harassment or victimization carried out by their employees in the course of employment. However, employers have a legal defense if they took “all reasonable steps” to prevent their employees from acting unlawfully.

Publication of or reporting on companies’ prevention and resolution policies. This measure could require board signoff and could be combined with internal monitoring and reporting.

Other measures. The consultation also invites comments on other steps that would:

  • Better protect interns and volunteers from harassment.
  • Better protect employees from harassment committed by third parties.
  • Extend the current time limit — three months from the date of the incident — for employees to bring an employment tribunal claim under the Equality Act 2010.

Alternative actions. The consultation asks for other nonlegislative solutions that would help prevent workplace harassment.

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