MeToo

Last year was very much when the #MeToo movement swept through the media worldwide, as Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, and his alleged acts of sexual harassment all but dominated the headlines.

In the UK, you may recall a story regarding the alleged conduct of Ted Baker founder Ray Kelvin towards members of his staff. This included allegedly ‘forcing’ them to hug him, and requiring female staff to sit on his knee.

The complaint hit the headlines, primarily due to the fact that the alleged harassment was brought to the attention of the company via a petition from 60 current and former staff, and signed by more than 1,000 people. A significant statement.

These actions appear to reflect the current mood in respect of the intolerance felt towards sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace.

The number of current and historic sexual misconduct complaints continues to rise throughout 2019, in all walks of the employment law landscape. It is an issue that affects the workplace, and one which the employer needs to be particularly sensitive to.

Code of Practice and consultations

The government has responded to this issue by announcing it will introduce a new ‘Code of Practice’ so employers better understand their legal responsibilities to protect their staff – as part of a package of commitments to tackle sexual harassment at work.

Responding to the Women and Equalities Select Committee report, the Government Equalities Office also promised to carry out awareness-raising work with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and employers on how to prevent – and address – sexual harassment at work; to work with regulators and ensure they are taking action; and commission survey data on the prevalence of sexual harassment at work.

The government will also consult on:

  • Non-disclosure agreements
  • How to strengthen and clarify the laws, in relation to third party harassment
  • The evidence base for introducing a new legal duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

The government has also promised to consult on whether additional protections are needed for volunteers and interns – looking at all the protections in the Equality Act 2010, not just those on sexual harassment – and to explore the evidence for extending the time limits to bring any workplace discrimination and harassment case, under the Equality Act 2010, to an employment tribunal.

With regard to the practicalities of how to deal with complaints of sexual harassment, it is always important to have policies in place to demonstrate that the employer does not tolerate sexual harassment in any form.

Training staff to understand what that means and on referring to examples of unwanted conduct, is also very helpful in educating the workforce on what is unacceptable.

In addition, it is important for staff to understand that complainants should not be victimised for their actions. Having a grievance policy in place is vital, as it allows any member of staff who has a complaint, an opportunity to bring it to the attention of the employer by way of a clear process.

When the government’s Statutory Code of Practice is introduced, and the further consultation launched, it may bring some clarity to issues that have been in the public spotlight for some time.

 


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Author: Rafia Ahmad

Senior Solicitor, ESP Law Ltd

Rafia trained and qualified with Wedlake Bell LLP, a London City law firm where she was an employment solicitor for six years before moving to the fast paced trading floor of Cantor Fitzgerald LLP, a London based New York prime brokerage/investment bank as in-house employment counsel. Prior to joining ESP, Rafia was a senior employment solicitor for five years with Backhouse Jones, the UK’s number one national road transport law firm. She advises on all employment matters both contentious and non-contentious including tribunal proceedings.