Last reviewed 26 July 2021

Having considered the 4200 replies to a consultation it launched in 2019, the Government has promised to strengthen the protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

With full details available here, its response document is accompanied by two important research documents:

  • a literature review of existing research, which helped the Government Equalities Office to develop a nationally-representative survey

  • a report which details the results of the survey (conducted in early 2020), which gave nationally-representative figures on the scale and nature of sexual harassment.

The Government will now legislate to:

  • introduce a duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment

  • create explicit protections from harassment by third parties.

It will also support the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to produce a statutory code of practice, alongside producing its own employer guidance, and will look closely at extending the time limit for bringing Equality Act-based cases to tribunal to six months.

The Government response has been welcomed by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, who said that the new protections will also help to stamp out racist and homophobic abuse of workers.

The proposal that employers must now protect their workers from all forms of harassment by customers and clients as well as from colleagues would, she suggested, make all public-facing workplaces safer — from shops to surgeries, and salons to showrooms.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

Employers may begin to consider gaining a head start on updating their existing policies on discrimination and harassment so they are not caught unaware when these new rules are introduced.

A big task ahead for many businesses, but with the Government clamping down on sexual harassment in the workplace, employers will likely benefit from making updates sooner rather than later — although, new policies may be necessary when further government guidance is released.