30 July 2018
The Women and Equalities Committee has lambasted the government, regulators and employers for failing to adequately tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.
Releasing a new reportthat details the findings of a six-month inquiry into the matter, the cross-party group of MPs revealed that 40% of women and 18% of men have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work.
The Committee found that employers are ignoring their responsibilities and the legal protections that workers need are not available to them in practice, with the government failing to do enough to tackle unlawful behaviours, despite its obligations under international law.
Chair of the Committee, Maria Miller, said:
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said: “It is utterly shameful that in 2018, unwanted sexual comments, touching, groping and assault are seen as an everyday occurrence and part of the culture in many workplaces.
“Government, regulators and employers have been dodging their responsibilities for far too long. There is currently little incentive for employers to take robust action.
“In contrast, there is considerable focus on other corporate governance issues like protecting people’s personal data and preventing money laundering, with stringent requirements on employers and businesses to meet their responsibilities.
“It’s time to put the same emphasis on tackling sexual harassment.”
The Committee recommended that a new duty is place on employers to prevent harassment (including of interns and volunteers, and those who are targeted by third parties), with a statutory code of practice established to guide them on how to do this.
To improve enforcement of the law, the report proposed that regulators should take a more active role, that the time-limit for bringing tribunal cases should be extended, penalties should be increased, and the cost risk of bringing a case should be better mitigated.
Further, the MPs stated that it should become an offence to misuse non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and that there should be better legal protection for whistleblowers who report the abuse of such contracts.
Lastly, the Committee called on the government to begin gathering data on the extent of the issue.
“The burden falls unacceptably on the individual to hold harassers and employers to account when they will already hesitate to do so due to fear of victimisation,” Maria Miller explained.
“The current system is inadequate: the tribunal system must provide an effective remedy for employees.”
She added: “We expect proper regulation of NDAs and that any unethical practices lead to strong and appropriate sanctions.”