The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published new guidance in relation to sexual harassment and harassment in the workplace. In this blog we will look at the guidance, and what it means for employers.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination and harassment because of, or related to, one or more of the nine protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation).
There is no length of service requirement for an Equality Act claim in the Employment Tribunal claims can be brought by job applicants, workers or employees, or ex-employees or workers. Discrimination claims are uncapped and therefore can be costly for employers.
The new EHRC guidance offers:
- A definition of harassment and victimisation and providing examples of harassment and victimisation;
- An explanation of the effect of harassment in the workplace;
- An understanding of the responsibilities of employers; and
- Advice on how to prevent and respond to harassment.
The guidance recommends that employers have effective policies and procedures. Although, as always, having a policy alone is not enough and all employers will be expected to have in place effective policies and practices which aim to prevent harassment and victimisation. However, these need to be proactively communicated to staff and training provided on these policies.
Employers should seek to be aware of what is happening in the workplace. Employers should give workers every opportunity to raise issues with them, even where there are no warning signs of harassment.
The guidance also recommends that workers should be provided with training which addresses each of the types of harassment along with training on victimisation. We have created an online training platform on equality, diversity and inclusion, which addresses the points raised within the guidance - see the end of this blog for more details.
When an employer becomes aware that harassment is taking or has taken place, it is important that they deal with it promptly, efficiently and sensitively.
Employers have a duty of care to protect their workers and will be legally liable for harassment in the workplace if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it. An employer will not be liable for harassment committed by a worker in the course of employment if they can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment (the 'reasonable steps' defence). While this defence will vary from employer to employer, ensuring that relevant policies are in place, training carried out and a pro-active approach to dealing with this will be of great assistance.
The full guidance can be found here. It is anticipated that a Statutory Code of Conduct will follow, and while Tribunals are not yet bound to follow this guidance, it will almost certainly be taken into account in the same way that the Acas Code of Conduct is, with uplifts on awards of up to 25% being available to the Tribunal.
If you have any questions about this and how you might tackle any sorts of discriminatory behaviour in your organisation please get in touch.