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Government and employers failing to tackle sexual harassment at work, say MPs

Unwanted behaviour such as groping, touching and even assault are part of the culture in British industry, a major study has found.

The Government and employers have been accused of failing to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.

A major study revealed that unwanted behaviour such as groping, touching and even assault were part of the culture in British industry.

Sexual harassment is “widespread and commonplace”, but legal protection is not always available to workers in practice, said the Women and Equalities Committee.

Ministers were urged to put tackling sexual harassment at the top of the agenda, while employers and regulators were accused of “ignoring” their responsibilities.

It is shameful that unwanted sexual behaviours... are seen as an everyday occurrence and part of the culture Women and Equalities Committee

The MPs have held a six-month inquiry into the problem, concluding that a new duty is needed for employers to prevent harassment.

“It is shameful that unwanted sexual behaviours such as sexual comments, touching, groping and assault are seen as an everyday occurrence and part of the culture in workplaces,” said the MPs’ report.

“Currently, there is little incentive for employers and regulators to take robust action to tackle and prevent unwanted sexual behaviours in the workplace.

“In contrast, there is considerable focus on protecting people’s personal data and preventing money laundering, with stringent requirements on employers and businesses to meet their responsibilities in these areas. They should now put the same emphasis on tackling sexual harassment.”

The MPs detailed a number of priorities, including a more active role by regulators, reducing barriers to taking cases to employment tribunals and a statutory code of practice to cover workers, including interns and volunteers.

Maria Miller, who chairs 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.

“The effects of sexual harassment can be traumatic and devastating, and this is reinforced by the personal evidence we received.

“The lack of appropriate support for victims within the workplace cannot continue.

“The burden falls unacceptably on the individual to hold harassers and employers to account when they will already hesitate to do so due to fear of victimisation. The current system is inadequate.

“The tribunal system must provide an effective remedy for employees.”

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Zelda Perkins, former assistant to Harvey Weinstein, gave evidence to the committee (PA)

The MPs said the use of so-called non-disclosure agreements (NDA) should not be used to prevent victims from reporting incidents.

The committee heard from Zelda Perkins, former assistant to disgraced former film mogul Harvey Weinstein, about the NDA agreement she was asked to sign.

The MPs noted that the Government does not collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, saying the scale of the issue is masked in organisations by the fact that the majority of incidents are never reported to an employer.

The report called for “robust” data to be collected on the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “More than half of women in the UK have been sexually harassed at work.

“Sexual harassment has a huge impact on women’s lives and careers, so it’s good to see the select committee recommending tough action.

“The TUC supports making employers responsible for preventing sexual harassment. And 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.”

We will be considering the findings of this report very carefully as we work to stamp out harassment Government spokesman

Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE said: “Too many young women are facing sexual harassment while trying to carry out their jobs. It is shocking how many employers are aware of this in their own workplace – yet are not taking action.”

A Government Equalities Office spokesman said: “Workplace sexual harassment is against the law.

“Any behaviour that causes people to feel intimidated or humiliated in the workplace is unacceptable, and failure to comply with the law must not be tolerated.

“We will be considering the findings of this report very carefully as we work to stamp out harassment, protect victims and ensure everybody can feel respected and safe at work.”

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