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Government Response to Consultation on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The aim of a consultation held in 2019 was to gather evidence about whether the current laws on protecting people from sexual harassment in the workplace are effective.

This response document sets out how the government intends to strengthen the protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The consultation ran from 11 July to 2 October 2019 and had 2 parts:

  1. technical consultation

  2. public questionnaire.

The technical consultation invited detailed responses on the legal framework around preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. There were 133 responses to this part of the consultation.

The public questionnaire aimed at gathering insight on the experiences of individuals. There were 4,215 responses to this element of the consultation.

Main findings

The main findings of the consultation were that many were supportive of a new duty to prevent harassment and believed that it would prompt employers to take positive steps.

Consultees highlighted the complexity of introducing protections from third-party harassment without the need for an incident to have occurred, but were generally supportive of employers being able to use the defence of having taken all ‘reasonable steps’, which already exists in the Act.

On extending protections for volunteers and interns, while respondents were supportive of the proposal in principle, many raised concerns about the impact this could potentially have on the third sector, particularly the effect of administrative burden on smaller charities.

Finally, on extending time limits, the impact of trauma arising from experiencing sexual harassment was a common theme across responses, as was the potential barrier to justice that the current limit could create, notably in instances of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Employers’ responsibility

In response to the consultation, the government says it will legislate to:

  • Introduce a duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.

  • Create explicit protections from harassment by third parties.

The government says it will also:

  • Support the Equality and Human Rights Commission to produce a statutory code of practice, alongside producing our own employer guidance.

  • Look closely at extending the time limit for bringing Equality Act-based cases to tribunal to 6 months.

The response report is available here.

Government Equalities Office July 2021

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