Congress welcomes the UK government’s announcement (July 2021) that it intends to introduce a duty on employers to protect staff from sexual harassment, including harassment from third parties, and to look at extending the time limit for employment tribunal cases.
Achieving these changes to the law is urgent. Sexual harassment is rife in workplaces.
Sexual harassment in the workplace continues to be a major problem for many women. More than four-fifths of young women in the UK have been subjected to sexual harassment, (source: UN Women UK (March 2021).
A poll published in July by the TUC revealed that around seven in 10 (68 per cent) disabled women surveyed about sexual harassment had been sexually harassed at work.
TUC research recently revealed the persistent and widespread scale of workplace sexual harassment. More than one in two women and nearly seven out of 10 LGBT+ workers are sexually harassed in the workplace.
After lobbying from the TUC, the UK government launched a consultation on sexual harassment at work which closed in October. In their responses, 54 per cent of women said they had experienced harassment at work.
Congress condemns continued sexual harassment in the workplace. Reporting has been hampered by:
i. the failure to provide anonymity therefore increasing victimisation
ii. placing the burden of proof on the individual
iii. the adverse effect of increased stress
iv. working from home.
Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, however, the majority of those affected are women. Too many workers have had to put up with appalling behaviour for too long because they felt nothing would be done if they reported it. There is also evidence that the requirement to work from home during the pandemic has led to online sexual harassment becoming more prevalent.
Women (and anybody facing sexual harassment) need an alternative mechanism to report incidences and better protection, therefore improving chances of satisfactory results and closure.
Responding to the consultation, the government said it intends to introduce a duty requiring employers to prevent sexual harassment and introduce explicit protections from third-party harassment.
Congress welcomes the commitment of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to work with the government and others to produce a statutory code of practice on harassment at work to use in legal proceedings brought under the Equality Act 2010.
While welcoming the proposals, Congress believes they don’t go far enough, particularly as these measures do not give protection for self-employed women, a vast number of whom work in the creative industries.
While the changes in employment law go some way to protect women at work, the only way women can be fully protected from sexual harassment is to make it a criminal offence, both at work and outside of work.
Congress calls on the TUC Women’s Committee, the General Council and affiliates to:
a. continue to campaign against sexual harassment
b. continue to campaign for zero tolerance of sexual harassment in workplaces, including online abuse and for companies to adopt stand-alone sexual harassment policies
c. provide support to women whose work and employment arrangements make it more difficult to access immediate assistance and seek legal redress, such as seafarers and other cross-border workers
d. develop a charter or pledge for trade union affiliates to sign up to encouraging respect and dignity to all women and an end to misogynistic behaviours – essentially creating sexual harassment free-zones
e. press the government to act urgently to turn intention into action, change the law and enforce it
f. campaign to force the government to introduce an enforceable duty for employers to take all such steps to protect workers from sexual harassment
g. campaign for the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention and International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 190, an international treaty that recognises the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment
h. pressure the government to make the collecting of data linked to the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment and its impact an annual exercise
i. to explore how sexual harassment might be made a criminal offence.
Congress further calls on the General Council to lobby government to:
1. increase EHRC’s funding to increase enforcement effectiveness
2. implement Section 14 of the Equality Act and review the limit of two characteristics
3. increase the time to raise a tribunal claim to six months.
Congress asks the General Council to engage with employers and unions to urge them to:
I. establish levels of sexual harassment
II. consider current reporting procedure with a view to introducing anonymous reporting
III. consider better disclosing procedures
IV. provide training to increase awareness and a zero-tolerance culture in the workplace
V. provide specialist in-house support with trade union oversight
VI. provide in-house trained investigators.
TUC Women’s Conference