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EHRC backs sexual harassment bill

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has urged government to follow through with efforts to curb workplace sexual harassment, ahead of the reading of a Private Member's Bill in parliament tomorrow (21 October).

The Worker Protection Bill is scheduled for its second reading in the House of Commons, having first been introduced by Wera Hobhouse MP on 15 June, five years after the MeToo movement brought public attention to cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.


The bill aims to make employers liable for harassment of their employees by third parties, introducing a duty for employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of workers.

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Should the bill become law the EHRC will produce a code of practice for employers. Melanie Field, executive director at the EHRC, said the government, as well as employers, needs to take responsibility for employees' safety.  


She said: "We’re briefing parliamentarians to support this bill and are hopeful that it will become law. Employers already need to take reasonable steps to prevent their employees harassing colleagues, but a clear duty to prevent sexual harassment will have a significant impact in helping to eliminate it.

"People deserve to work in safe environments and we cannot be complacent. We continue to see reports of sexual harassment occurring across different sectors. We need to see concerted efforts on the part of government, parliament and employers to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. The EHRC will continue to push for change and support the development of better practice, so that no one else has to suffer this abuse in the future."

The EHRC published its report, Turning the tables: ending sexual harassment at work, in 2018 which contained recommendations for how businesses could address the issue. 


Jo Hind, co-founder of culture transformation consultancy, Birdsoup, highlighted how workplace sexual harassment has changed since MeToo as employees work from home more regularly.


She told HR magazine: "Sexual harassment hasn't disappeared. Instead, it's moved online. There's an interesting shift when you are working from home with colleagues that they see you in your home environment, and for some people, this means they think they can flirt or send unwanted messages.


"When you're in an office, people are around and certain behaviour is expected, whereas out of office behaviours might not be spotted. Nowadays, in a hybrid world, the right behaviour isn't always being modelled in quite the same way."


Employers need to create an environment where workers feel safe to speak out, Hind added.


She said: "Five years on from Me Too, it's time for companies to test the temperature, understand what's going on, and check in on the wellbeing of all staff. Companies need to work hard not to have a work policy that just sits in a drawer or on the company drive, but one that is lived and breathed into the culture. It's easy for workplace issues to get bumped along for the next hot topic once the policy is in place.


"Companies need to create psychological safety so that when people aren't happy with someone's behaviour or an unwelcome comment – they can surface that message and they will be supported – in or out of the office."