Private member’s bill on third party harassment will force employers to address inappropriate behaviour

  • Market Insight 19 December 2022 19 December 2022
  • Asia Pacific, North America, UK & Europe

  • Insurance 2023 - the year ahead

With allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace having increased post-Covid, organisations need to ensure they have an inclusive working environment and implement a robust process for addressing unacceptable behaviour

The term sexual harassment has been in use since the 1970s but #MeToo brought the issue to the fore as disclosures about Harvey Weinstein spread in 2017, while Everyone’s Invited highlighted the challenge faced by young people in education and prompted a widespread sharing of experiences in British schools.

#Me Too and Everyone’s Invited used social media to enable, encourage and spread disclosure. This greater awareness and willingness to speak out, particularly amongst millennials and generation Z, means unacceptable behaviour in the workplace which has often been tolerated for decades, is increasingly being challenged.

A recent study suggested that one fifth of the UK workforce has experienced at least one form of workplace sexual harassment in the last 12 months.

Organisations should think about and enable a culture in which unacceptable behaviour is not tolerated. The challenge many face is in changing behaviours such as sexualised comments and physical contact which may not have been challenged before.

Organisations that fail to address cultural challenges and learn how to respond to them will face a myriad of problems. In a challenging recruitment environment, and with this heightened focus on the working environment, businesses which gain a reputation for an old-fashioned culture will face significant public criticism and an associated financial impact.

A 2021 Fawcett Society report on sexual harassment in the workplace found that the post-Covid return to the workplace had led to an increased number of allegations, generating a mixed response from employers.

All organisations need to create a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace while implementing a clear reporting process for inappropriate behaviour, that articulates a clear approach for responding to disclosures, including: how to engage with the affected employees; how to respond to their colleagues; consideration of regulatory obligations; engaging with relevant third parties; and how to ensure a swift investigation and response to the allegations.

Employers also need to think about how to protect their workforce from harassment by third parties. This is currently being debated in the UK parliament through a private member’s bill.

There is no scope for complacency – in 2023 all organisations should be debating what they are doing about harassment linked to the workplace.

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