With the Equality Act entering its second decade, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has decided to issue new guidance to provide support for employers in protecting their workforces.

In a letter to leading employers and industry groups, EHRC Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath has reminded them that their employees must come to work knowing they will be safe and protected from discrimination, victimisation and harassment of any kind.

Available at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/sexual_harassment_and_harassment_at_work.pdf, Sexual harassment and harassment at work offers a legal explanation and practical examples of how to tackle and respond effectively to harassment.

It provides definition and examples of harassment and victimisation, covers the effects of harassment in the workplace and outlines employers’ responsibilities as well as providing help with preventing and responding to incidents in the workplace.

Ms Hilsenrath said: “It is time for all employers to step up action against misconduct and protect their staff from harassment. It’s been two years since #MeToo forced sexual harassment to the top of the agenda. The issue is not going to go away and if we are going to create working environments where no one is ever made to feel unsafe or threatened, then we need a dramatic shift in workplace cultures.”

The guidance explains the different forms that harassment and victimisation can take under the Equality Act.

It also emphasises that certain types of behaviour — such as physical gestures, jokes or pranks, banter and physical behaviour towards a person or their property — can amount to harassment or sexual harassment even if that is not how it was intended by the perpetrator.

The EHRC makes it clear that the technical guidance will provide employment tribunals and courts with clear direction on the law and best practice steps that employers could take to prevent and deal with harassment and victimisation.

It is expected to become a statutory code of practice in due course.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director of Advisory Kate Palmer

The efforts made to eradicate workplace harassment have increased significantly in recent times, as a combination of media addition and government pressure has forced many employers to review their prevention measures.

As we enter a new decade, the goal for all employers should be to make workplace harassment a thing of the past. While the EHRC’s guidance points out that harassment can manifest itself by way of physical gestures and ill-advised banter, employers ought to think of how their practices may facilitate this behaviour.

Uniform requirements are an especially poignant example of how seemingly well-intended rules could encourage harassment at work.

As previous government guidance has warned against dress codes being a source of harassment, employers should review their current requirements and ensure these do not create an intimidating or hostile environment for staff.

Last reviewed 16 January 2020