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The Equality and Human Rights Commission has written to Chairs of the FTSE 100 and other leading employers saying it will take legal action where there is evidence of systemic failing in preventing, or dealing with, sexual harassment.
The EHRC has asked employers to supply evidence of what safeguards they have in place to prevent sexual harassment, what steps they have taken to ensure that all employees are able to report instances of harassment without fear of retribution and how they plan to prevent harassment in the future.
The letter explains that, where the Commission discovers evidence of systemic failings, it will consider exercising its enforcement powers. This could include undertaking investigations into organisations which it suspects may be failing to take reasonable steps to protect employees.
The Commission’s Chief Executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said: “Sexual harassment is rife across all of our industries. We accept it far too easily, in terms of the culture we live in. Accountability lies with leadership. It is not enough to report a nil return. We need to take responsibility to ensure that no woman will ever be intimidated from reporting, be challenged by the difficulty of doing so or frightened of the implications for her career.
“Everyone is entitled to a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination, and until we achieve that goal, we will see inequality in pay and opportunity, and a waste of some of the brightest talent owned by half the human race. We want to find out what is working and what the barriers are and identify the leaders who are making a difference.”
A deadline to respond to the letter has been set for 19 January 2018. The Commission has also produced legal guidance to help businesses understand the law better and will ask people who have experienced sexual harassment to submit their thoughts on how best to deal with it in the workplace via online evidence gathering.
The EHRC says sexual harassment occurs when someone engages in unwanted behaviour which is of a sexual nature and which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.