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Government announces new Code of Practice to tackle sexual harassment at work

View profile for Sinead Noonan
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On Tuesday, in response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee report, the Government announced that it will launch a new statutory Code of Practice, developed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. It will make it clear what actions employers must take to fulfil their legal obligations, and employees will be able to rely on violations of the Code when bringing claims in the employment tribunals. However, it is not clear when the new Code will be published or in force.
 
The Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins, said that the government is “taking action to make sure employers know what they have to do to protect their staff, and people know their rights at work and what action to take if they feel intimidated or humiliated”. In addition to launching the new Code, the government has announced that it will also work with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and employers, to raise awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace. 
 
The move has been welcomed by the Women and Equalities Select Committee chair and MP Maria Miller, although she criticised the government for “missing the opportunity to place a greater onus on employers to protect workers from harassment and to increase sanctions for poor practice”, and for taking five months to respond to the Women and Equalities Select Committee report which found that forty percent of women have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace. Other critics have noted that the new Code may have limited use where issues are deeply rooted within an organisation’s culture.
 
The announcement was part of a “package” of 12 announcements which included confirmation that the government will commission a survey to gather regular data on the prevalence of sexual harassment, consult on non-disclosure agreements, consult on whether further legal protections are required for interns and volunteers, explore whether employment tribunal time limits should be extended for Equality Act 2010 cases and ensure that the public sector takes action to tackle and prevent sexual harassment. 
 
For further details of our Toolkit of services to help you manage and prevent harassment in the workplace please click here.

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