Government action on sexual harassment ‘inadequate’

The Government is to introduce a code of practice on sexual harassment at work.

Sexual Harassment


The Government will introduce a statutory code of practice to tackle sexual harassment at work, but there will be no new legislation to ensure workers are protected from abuse or any sanctions for those who fail to comply with the code.

The pledge to work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission is part of the Government’s response to the Women and Equalities Committee report on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Five point plan

The report called for a five-point plan, including a new duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation, supported by a statutory code of practice; a greater role for regulators; improving enforcement processes for employees; cleaning up the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs); and better Government data.

Calling the response “inadequate”, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said: “The Government is placing a lot of emphasis on awareness-raising among employers and employees as a means of tackling sexual harassment. We welcome the actions it will take to raise awareness of rights and responsibilities, but it also needs to do more to show that it is taking these issues seriously. Employers need to know that they face severe penalties if they don’t do enough to protect their staff from harassment and victimisation.”

Miller says 40 per cent of women say they have faced some form of sexual harassment at work

Regulation of non-disclosure agreements

In its response to the report, the Government also agrees that non-disclosure agreements require better regulation and a clearer explanation of the rights that a worker cannot abrogate by signing one and commits to consult on how best to achieve this and enforce any new provisions.

It also agrees that regulators should make it clear that workplace sexual harassment is unacceptable, and that sexual harassment should be taken into account when considering the fitness and propriety of the individuals and employers they regulate.  And it says employers “should have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to protect their staff from third party harassment where they know that their staff are at risk” and proposes to consult on “how best to strengthen and clarify the laws in relation to third party harassment”.

Other responses include:

  • a statement that it will amend whistleblowing law to make the EHRC a prescribed organisation and will consider further whether to add the police to the list.
  • a pledge to work with Acas, the EHRC and employers to raise awareness of appropriate workplace behaviours and individual rights and a promise to gather regular data on the prevalence and nature of workplace sexual harassment at least every three years, with a view to launching survey questions in 2019.

Meanwhile, a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) indicates that 68% of the global gender gap was closed in 2018 – a 0.1% improvement on 2017. At the current rate of progress, it estimates it will take 108 years for the gap to be closed entirely, despite an increased focus on the gender pay gap.

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