Time to make bosses legally responsible for preventing sexual harassment at work

Published date
18 Dec 2018
The reponsibility for tackling sexual harassment in the workplace should lie with the employer, not the person being harassed
Three women at work
Over half of women have experienced sexual harassment at work Credit: Getty

Today the government published its response to a report on sexual harassment in the workplace that the Women and Equalities Select Committee released earlier this year.

The response supports some of the measures we’ve previously called for, including action to change the law so that employers must protect their staff from harassment by patients, clients and customers.

But while this is welcome progress, we don’t think this response goes far enough.

That’s why we’re calling for the law to be changed so that employers are responsible for preventing sexual harassment at work.

This is the best way to ensure that the burden of tackling sexual harassment lies with the employer and not the person being harassed.

And it’s the most effective way to end toxic workplace cultures that silence those who’ve been harassed.

Enough is enough

For over a year we've been listening to the voices of the #MeToo movement – to the thousands of stories about sexual assault and harassment at work.

All too often, these stories feature employers who allowed abusers to carry on as normal while the people who experienced abuse were silenced and victimised.

We know how big a problem this is in workplaces right across the country.

The TUC’s own research shows that over half of women have experienced sexual harassment at work, with younger women and those on zero hour contracts even more likely to be harassed.

Yet only one in five ever report their experiences, silenced by workplace cultures where harassment and abuse are swept under the carpet by non-disclosure agreements or dismissed as banter.

So how can we stop this happening?

There’s widespread agreement that we need to take urgent action to tackle this issue which blights so many working lives.

What we need is change on a scale that matches the size and seriousness of the issue. Unfortunately, this is where the governments’ new proposals fall short.

We need to fundamentally shift the burden of tackling sexual harassment away from those being harassed and onto employers, where it rightfully belongs.

But to make this happen we need an easily enforceable duty on all employers to take effective action to prevent sexual harassment.

Statement of intent

A new Code of Practice could set out exactly what steps employers should take, but a Code won’t be enough on its own to bring about the change we need.

A new mandatory duty with real teeth would be a proper statement of intent that the government is serious about ridding workplaces of the stain of sexual harassment and abuse.

#MeToo was a once in a generation moment. We need to seize it and make a meaningful change that shows that we’ve truly listened to those who bravely shared their experiences.

And anyone experiencing sexual harassment at work should join a union to make sure they are protected and respected at work.

We need a new law to prevent sexual harassment at work The government needs to take immediate action