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Equality and Human Rights Commission technical guidance on sexual harassment and harassment at work

15 January 2020
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued their "technical guidance on sexual harassment and harassment at work", which is a precursor to and the foundation of the anticipated statutory code of practice.  

The guidance sets out invaluable step by step direction for employers on their responsibility when dealing with harassment in the workplace in line with legislation. Whilst it is not mandatory for employment tribunals to take it into account, it will most certainly be used in evidence as an indicator of good or bad practice. Organisations prioritising a positive workplace culture will inevitably stay one step ahead.

The impact of harassment

The guidance succinctly sets out the serious economic consequences for employers of failing to address sexual harassment in the workplace, including:

  • low morale;
  • poor workforce relations;
  • high levels of stress;
  • reduced staff engagement;
  • higher turnover of workers;
  • reduced productivity;
  • increased absenteeism and
  • damage to reputation.

Additionally it directly identifies the sheer scale of the problem and why preventative action is absolutely necessary. As always, prevention is better than cure and clarity on what is not acceptable behaviour in the workplace, as well as the consequences for not adhering to standards is fundamental. The spotlight is firmly on sexual harassment – this is a business critical issue.  

Preventing and responding to harassment

The technical guidance takes the opportunity to remind employers of the key steps to take to help tackle harassment in the workplace. As expected, effective procedures, training and risk assessments are necessary. The guidance also focuses on an employer's duty to proactively make sure they are aware of harassment taking place. It encourages employers to consider anonymous reporting and provide every opportunity for employees to easily disclose any issue.  Please see Culture's Shift's insightful blog giving useful guidance to employers on "detecting harassment".  This is an indication of the direction of travel - employers must take responsibility and be approachable, open. Commitment to action has to be authentic.    

Third party harassment

The third party harassment provisions were repealed from the Equality Act 2010 and there has been much debate as to the extent of employers' liability for this form of harassment. The guidance recognises third party harassment as an issue and advises employers to "take reasonable steps to prevent third-party harassment". The question of re-instating legislative third party harassment provisions is still subject to consultation.   

Workplace culture is critical to the success of any business and it is essential for employers to create an inclusive environment. The guidance provides welcome direction on how employers can take responsibility and comply with the law.  

Find out more

DWF Responsibility is collaborating with tech for good software firm Culture Shift on producing an end to end solution for employers to protect their cultures. Culture Shift works with organisations across the world to implement online reporting solutions to help them proactively tackle harassment. We recorded a discussion to help you understand the new technical guidance.