Sarah Chilton: How employers can put an end to sexism and harassment in the workplace

Sarah Chilton

Sexual harassment in the workplace has received a huge amount of attention over the past few months. Employers must take steps to tackle harassment, to reduce their own risk, and to instill safer working cultures in their organisations.

In early 2018, the Women and Equalities Select Committee launched an inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace, and last week it published its report. Its recommendations include: extending the definitions of who is protected from harassment to include interns, volunteers and those harassed by third parties; requiring regulators to take enforcement action against those who do not do enough to tackle harassment; and reducing barriers to employment tribunal claims, including extending the legal time limit within which a worker must bring a claim and improving the remedies available to victims.

The recommendations also cover the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), ensuring that even where a worker enters into an NDA, often as part of settlement terms, it is made clear that they cannot be prevented from reporting harassment to certain specified persons.

But what should employers be doing now to reduce harassment in the workplace? Taking certain steps should help to reduce harassment, and the legal risk for employers.

Employers should have clear policies in place, which are communicated to all staff and ensure employees are aware of the reporting procedures for allegations of harassment, as well as providing specialist training on those policies. 

Organisations should be clear about what types of behaviour constitute harassment. Harassment often stems from an abuse of power, so being clear to staff about what forms it can take, and scenarios where it might be more likely to occur, is critical.

Carrying out risk assessments can help identify risk areas in the business, such as departments with long working hours, or where there is a culture of workplace socialising and drinking.

Employers must ensure that they investigate reports of harassment properly and consider what intermediate action needs to be taken, such as removing the alleged harasser from the workplace to protect the person making the report.

Sarah Chilton is a partner specialising in partnership and employment law at CM Murray