One in two women have been sexually harassed at work according to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Trades Union Congress. It is timely, therefore, that last month saw the launch of a specialist legal advice line for women in England and Wales experiencing sexual harassment at work. The advice line, run by the charity Rights of Women, provides women with advice on identifying sexual harassment, how to bring complaints against employers, the employment tribunal procedure, settlement agreements and nondisclosure agreements. The advice line is the first of its kind in the UK and supporters hope that it will empower women to exercise their legal rights in the workplace. The increased awareness generally of employees’ rights in relation to workplace harassment means that responsible employers should be proactive (rather than reactive) in ensuring that their policies and procedures on this topic are in order.
The launch of the advice line follows the publication earlier this year of a report by the Women and Equalities Committee of the UK parliament on the use of nondisclosure agreements in discrimination cases. The report set out the UK government’s view that confidentiality clauses and nondisclosure agreements should not be used to ‘gag’ and intimidate victims of workplace harassment and/or discrimination. The government intends to legislate on this topic in due course. Other initiatives and proposals include the introduction of a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work. It is clear that sexual harassment is a subject matter which continues to remain a key focus of the government, press and public.