The Government should introduce legislation to prevent employers from using non-disclosure agreements to sweep sexual harassment under the carpet and protect their reputation, according to a set of recommendations published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The recommendations say the agreements should only be used at the victim’s request. They also call for the time limit to bring a claim of sexual harassment to tribunal to be extended to six months.
The recommendations are based on a wide-ranging exercise to garner the views of those who have been affected by sexual harassment. The EHRC is calling for a new positive legal duty on employers, enforceable by the Commission, to take effective steps to prevent harassment or victimisation in the workplace; a statutory code of practice that sets out the steps employers need to take to comply with this duty; an action plan based on better data about sexual harassment; and greater protection for those harassed by customers and clients.
It says ACAS needs to develop targeted sexual harassment training for managers, staff and workplace sexual harassment ‘champions’ and employers should publish their separate sexual harassment policy and steps being taken to implement and evaluate it in an easily accessible part of their external website.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are liable for acts of sexual harassment by one employee towards another unless they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent it, including having an anti-harassment policy and appropriate procedures for reporting harassment and taking action.
Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which is intended to, or has the effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
The EHRC says examples include unwelcome physical contact, sexual comments, promises in return for sexual favours, and displaying sexually graphic pictures.
It adds: “Even if unwanted conduct is not intended to cause distress, it can still have the effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an offensive environment. Whether or not unwanted sexual conduct violates a person’s dignity or creates an offensive environment depends on the victim’s perspective and whether their reaction is reasonable in all the circumstances.”