I am aware that the Trades Union Congress (TUC), alongside many other organisations, is calling for a new, easily enforceable, preventive duty requiring employers to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from sexual harassment and victimisation. The TUC has raised concerns that, under current laws, there is no legal duty on employers to take proactive action to prevent harassment happening in their workplaces.
I believe that the Government must commit to taking action to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. It is vital that strong workplace protections are in place and that there is access to justice.
In March 2018, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released a report stating that employers should protect their employees from sexual harassment at work but noted that the evidence it had gathered showed “this isn’t happening.” The report recommended that the Government should introduce a mandatory duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment and victimisation in the workplace. I welcomed the EHRC’s recommendations to protect employees from sexual harassment at work.
Additionally, an Inquiry by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’, also called on the Government to introduce such a duty. In December 2018, the Government responded and said the Committee’s research suggests that there is more that employers could be doing to prevent sexual harassment at work. The Government agreed to the Committee’s recommendation that a statutory Code of Practice should be introduced, but stated that it would consult on the proposal first.
The consultation ran between 11 July 2019 and 2 October 2019, and the Government is due to release a consultation paper based on its findings early this year.
I believe that the Government should reinstate Section 40 of the Equality Act to protect employees from third party harassment. I also believe it is vital that the Government emphasises the safety of women and girls by appointing a commissioner to set new standards for tackling sexual violence.
I can assure you that I will follow the outcome of the consultation closely, and push the Government to take action and not kick this issue into the long grass.