On Wednesday 15th January 2020, The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released new guidance for employers on sexual harassment and other forms of harassment at work.
The new guidance explains employers’ legal responsibilities and the practical steps they should take to prevent and respond to harassment and victimisation at work.
What is Harassment?
Harassing behaviour comes in different forms and each individual may define it differently. For example, what one employee or a group of employees may consider being a harmless joke, another may consider it offensive.
The Equality Act outlines that the following types of harassment are unlawful:
- Sexual harassment
- Harassment related to a relevant protected characteristic such as age, disability and race.
- Treating an employee less favourably for submitting to or rejecting sexual harassment or harassment in relation to sex or gender.
Legal obligations and requirements
The Equality Act states that any form of discrimination, harassment or victimisation in the working relationship is unlawful. The Act protects any individual who is in employment, for example, employees, workers and apprentices.
As an employer, it is important to take the necessary steps to tackle workplace harassment or you will be held accountable for these incidents. The guidance states that employers are liable for the following acts of harassment:
- Harassment committed by one worker against one of their colleagues.
- Harassment committed by one worker against a job applicant or former employee.
- Harassment committed by an agent acting on their behalf against one of their workers.
- It is a breach of legal obligations and seen as direct or indirect discrimination if an employer fails to deal with harassment committed by a worker, third party or another worker outside of employment.
Tackling and preventing harassment in the workplace
Alongside the guidance, the EHRC has published seven steps every employer should consider taking to ensure they are doing all they can to prevent and deal with sexual harassment in the workplace:
- Develop an effective anti-harassment policy which is reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
- Engage staff with regular one-to-ones and have an open door policy.
- Assess and mitigate risks in the workplace.
- Consider using a reporting system that allows workers to raise an issue anonymously.
- Train staff on what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like, what to do if workers experience it and how to handle complaints.
- Act immediately when a harassment complaint is made.
- Treat harassment by a third-party just as seriously as that by a colleague.