EHRC urges employers to crack down on harassment post #MeToo

Tougher action is required if harassment is to be stamped out of the workplace, according to guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

The new guidance explains employers’ legal responsibilities, such as a good anti-harassment policy and practical interventions to prevent and respond to harassment and victimisation at work.

It includes seven steps the EHRC says every employer should consider to ensure they are doing all they can to prevent and deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. These are:

  1. Develop an effective anti-harassment policy.
  2. Engage staff with regular one to ones and have an open-door policy.
  3. Assess and mitigate risks in the workplace.
  4. Consider using a reporting system that allows workers to raise an issue anonymously or in name.
  5. Train staff on what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like, what to do if workers experience it, and how to handle complaints.
  6. Act immediately when a harassment complaint is made.
  7. Treat harassment by a third party just as seriously as that by a colleague.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHRC, noted that some employers have ‘woken up’ after the #MeToo movement brought widespread attention to workplace sexual harassment, and that they have started to make changes that will transform working environments.

However, she prompted other employers to follow suit. “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,” said Hilsenrath.

Gemma McCall, CEO of software development business Culture Shift, argued that while one in four women have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace a lack of confidence that these issues will be taken seriously and treated sensitively stops people from coming forward.

“Employers must adopt a victim-first mentality to tackle harassment in the workplace, recognise the barriers to reporting and take all steps to remove them. Unless employers actively encourage reports people will remain fearful of the repercussions. That will hold back real change,” said McCall.