June 27, 2019

New campaign calls for employer duty to prevent sexual harassment at work

New campaign calls for employer duty to prevent sexual harassment at work

An alliance of UK unions, charities, and women’s rights groups launched a campaign on Wednesday calling for new legislation requiring employers to take preventative measures to stop sexual misconduct in the workplace.

It is currently the victim’s responsibility to report incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace, and employers have no legal obligation to take proactive action to stop it from happening.

In her IZA World of Labor article on the subject, Joni Hersch explains, “Sexual harassment includes a wide range of behaviors, from glances and rude jokes, to demeaning comments based on gender stereotypes, to sexual assault and other acts of physical violence. Although the legal definition varies by country, it is understood to refer to unwelcome and unreasonable sex-related conduct.”

The alliance includes the Fawcett Society, Action Aid, Amnesty, and Time’s Up UK. 

Fawcett Society Chief Executive Sam Smethers says: “We need to strengthen the law to better protect women from harassment from co-workers, clients or customers and we need a new duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment. They have to take responsibility for their own workplace culture.

“Everyone is entitled to dignity and respect at work. Sexual harassment has no place in any workplace.”

According to Hersch, “Although both men and women are sexually harassed, … data show that a majority of victims are women. Victims are more likely to be younger, hold lower-position jobs, work mostly with and be supervised by members of the opposite sex, and, for female victims, work in male-dominated occupations.”

Research carried out by the UK’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) finds that more than half of women have been sexually harassed at work, as well as seven out of ten LGBT workers. However, the majority don’t feel able to report incidents to their employers, with a quarter of LGBT people saying they were afraid of being “outed.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady feels the government must strengthen the law to place the responsibility for preventing harassment on employers, to “shift the burden of tackling sexual harassment away from individuals. 

“And it would help end toxic workplace cultures that silence those who’ve been harassed.”

The UK government is due to launch a consultation on workplace sexual harassment; they will consider introducing a duty on employers to take preventative action, as well as extending protections to interns and volunteers.

The ILO adopted a treaty last week that will introduce a global set of standards to prevent and deal with gender-based violence and harassment at work. The convention will require ILO members, including the UK, to develop national laws prohibiting workplace violence, as well as providing protection measures and victim services.

The alliance is calling for preventative measures to be outlined in a code of practice for employers, including mandatory training for staff and managers, and clear workplace policies.

Hersch outlines three approaches in her article, including “the promulgation of a strong policy prohibiting sexual harassment, workplace training, and a complaints process that protects workers from retaliation.”