Following the undercover investigation conducted by the Financial Times, the issue of liability for third-party harassment has once again been again been challenged.
On this occasion, female hostesses are believed to have been subjected to sexual harassment by male guests at a high-profile charity event. It has been claimed that the female employees were groped and propositioned with comments of a sexual nature.
Recently, the spotlight has been firmly on sexual harassment because of high profile incidents in London and Hollywood, all of which have highlighted the gap in legal protection for employees harassed by third parties during work.
Until 2013, s40 of the Equality Act 2010 stated employers could be held liable for the harassment from third parties on their property. This meant, if the employer was aware of at least 2 previous incidents of its employees being harassed and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent this, he could be held liable for the incidents.
In 2012, the Coalition Government deemed this section of the Equality Act as an “unnecessary regulation introduced without any real or perceived need.” As a result of this, the specific protection for employees was abolished through the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Act 2013. The Government cited a £300,000 saving from removing this legislation. This meant that employers were now no longer liable for the harassment of their employees carried out by third parties.
A few days prior to the Presidential scandal hitting the headlines, the Fawcett Society, a society who campaign for gender equality and women’s rights published a report urging that current harassment UK legislation ought to be strengthened. Within this report, they recommended reintroducing employer liability for third party harassment.
It has been suggested that the timing of this report and the allegations from the Presidential Club scandal will see even more pressure on the Government to reinstate previous provisions.
How can employers prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?
Whether your employees are at the office or are gathered at the works Christmas party, they should be well informed of the company’s sexual harassment policy and where to draw the line with their behaviour.
(1) Create a strong sexual harassment policy
Most employers should have already outlined the company’s sexual harassment policy within their employee handbook. If you have not, here is an outline of what should be included:
- Zero tolerance statement
- Examples of what is viewed as sexual harassment
- A definition of sexual harassment under the Equality Act 2010
- Complaints procedure
- Confidentiality agreement
(2) Train Employees
Once a year, employers should hold training sessions for all employees. In so doing employees should be made aware of what sexual harassment is under legislation, they have the right to a workplace free of sexual harassment and should be informed of the complaints procedure and how to use it.
(3) Train managers and supervisors
Annually, employers should hold training sessions for supervisors and managers only. These training sessions should educate your senior members of staff about sexual harassment and how to address complaints.
(4) Take all complaints seriously
Should an employee approach you with a complaint of sexual harassment, this should be taken seriously. Employers should act immediately and investigate the complaint. In the event that a complaint turns out to be a valid one, employers should respond swiftly and effectively.
How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?
If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662. You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.