Firms are failing to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, say MPs

Following a BBC survey from October last year which saw 53% of women and 20% of men say they had experienced sexual harassment at work, the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee has published a five-point plan to deal with the problem.

Sexual harassment at work is widespread and commonplace, and the committee believes there has been a failure to tackle unlawful behaviours, despite the Government’s obligations under international law.

Maria Miller MP, Chair of the committee said, “It is utterly shameful that in 2018, unwanted sexual comments, touching, groping and assault are seen as an everyday occurrence and part of the culture in many workplaces.

“Government, regulators and employers have been dodging their responsibilities for far too long. There is considerable focus on other corporate governance issues like protecting people’s personal data and preventing money laundering.

“It’s time to put the same emphasis on tackling sexual harassment.”

The survey, led by ComRes for BBC Radio 5 live, spoke to more than 2,000 people. They found that of the 53% of women who has experienced harassment, 63% said they didn’t report it to anyone. Of the 20% of men, 79% said they kept it to themselves.

The survey was commissioned after sexual assault claims against Harvey Weinstein resulted in widespread sharing of sexual harassment stories. The #MeToo movement was launched, where women and men from around the world were revealing their experiences on social media, supporting each other and ultimately, revealing the magnitude of the problem.

More than a quarter of people surveyed reported suffering harassment in the form of inappropriate jokes or “banter”, while nearly one in seven has suffered inappropriate touching.

The five-point plan

The report calls on the Government to focus on five priorities to put sexual harassment at the top of the agenda for employers, these include:

  • A duty on employers to prevent harassment
  • A more active role for regulators
  • Easier recourse to tribunals
  • Clarification of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)
  • Better data on sexual harassment

Frances O’Grady, Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary said, “Sexual harassment has a huge impact on women’s lives and careers. The TUC supports making employers responsible for preventing sexual harassment.

“It’s good to see the committee recommend long-overdue reforms to the tribunal system so that it works for victims of sexual harassment, and a new code of practice for employers too.”

The committee heard evidence from experts on employment and law, and also Harvey Weinstein’s former assistant, Zelda Perkins, who described the NDA she had to sign after leaving the film company as “morally lacking”.

She told the committee, “There cannot be a legal document that protects criminal behaviour. NDAs have their place in settling complaints, but they must not be used to prevent of dissuade victims from reporting incidents as is clearly the case now.

“We expect proper regulation of NDAs and that any unethical practices lead to strong and appropriate sanctions.”

Read the full report.

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