From evidence gathered for a report from the Equality and Human Rights commission published last week, employers are currently failing to protect their employees from sexual harassment. Fear of victimisation and ineffective and inconsistent company processes lead to too many employees being silenced.

‘Untouchable’ senior managers not being challenged contributes to the power imbalance of the perpetrator and the victim. Employees can feel that speaking out would be pointless as their voice would not be heard or listened to due to their attackers influence within the organisation.

In a quarter of reported incidents the perpetrators were customers of the employer, this was highlighted as an area where sexual harassment is dealt with particularly poorly. Many employees experiencing sexual harassment by customers felt that they had no option but to put up with this if they wanted to continue in their job.

However, in cases where employers did take action, employees subjected to the harassment felt this had a negative effect on their working environment. They reported that they were subsequently threatened with disciplinary action or even fired.

Many employees stated that they were blamed for the harassment or punished and moved to a different role, whist the perpetrator of the harassment experienced no negative impact.

The Equality and Human Rights commission has highlighted key recommendations to help bring an end to workplace sexual harassment.

  • A change in workplace culture, with employers taking more responsibility for preventing harassment.– With the onus of responsibility for harassment in the workplace being on the employer, a code of practice and training for organisations can educate staff to prevent the harassment from occurring.
  • Greater transparency about incidents of harassment and the policies in place. Changes to the way in which Non-Disclosure Agreements are used to silence victims may reduce fear for the victim of speaking out.
  • New laws to strengthen protection for harassment victims. – An extension in the timetable to report an attack could encourage more victims to speak out, allowing them significant time to recover and seek the legal advice they need.

Amanda Isherwood, Associate Employment solicitor says “These recommendations will help to raise awareness that sexual harassment in the workplace is happening and it needs to be tackled. . The Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that the law should change so that confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements should be void if they seek to prevent employees talking about the harassment they have been subjected to. In my opinion, this would certainly assist in raising awareness and compel employers to take the duty of care they owe to their employees more seriously, as failing to do so would risk damaging the employer’s reputation.”

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