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New statutory code to combat the ‘failure’ of employers to tackle sexual harassment at work

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A new statutory code of practice on sexual harassment in the workplace is to be drawn up.

Ministers will work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to combat what they describe as some employers’ “failure” to take the issue seriously and to produce a code that makes it clear “what actions an employer must take to fulfil their legal responsibilities”.

They will also look at tightening regulations around non-disclosure agreements and consult on how to ensure explanations to workers are clear.

It follows a report earlier this year by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee (CWEC) which found that sexual comments, unwanted touching, groping and assault are still “widespread and commonplace” in British industry.

The six-month investigation found that employers and regulators were “ignoring” their responsibilities, with the government not even collecting data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The committee recommended a “mandatory duty” on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation.

A government statement announcing work on the new code of practice said: “The Government shares the committee’s concerns that evidence suggests many employers are currently failing their employees in their responsibility to prevent sexual harassment, and in the systems they have in place for dealing with it when it does occur.

“We therefore agree the proposal for the development of a new statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and will work with the EHRC to develop a code that make it clear what actions an employer must take to fulfil their legal responsibilities.”

Chair of the CWEC committee Maria Miller welcomed the government plans but said they had “missed the opportunity to place a greater onus on employers to protect workers from harassment and to increase sanctions for poor practice.

“Just keeping an eye on how employment tribunals respond to the new code is inadequate.”

She added: “Employers need to know that they face severe penalties if they don’t do enough to protect their staff from harassment and victimisation.”

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