Ban nondisclosure agreements on workplace sexual harassment says EHRC
Non-disclosure agreements about sexual harassment in the workplace should be banned, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said. The EHRC has called on the Government to introduce legislation stopping employers from ignoring complaints to protect their reputation.The commission said it had discovered “truly shocking” examples of sexual harassment, including a 17-year-old who locked herself in a toilet after men “joked” about rape, and a woman who revealed she lost her job, her reputation and her health.It also said firms should not use non-disclosure agreements to sweep sexual harassment under the carpet.There should be a new legal duty on employers to prevent harassment or victimisation, as well as more protection for victims, said the EHRC.It also suggested that managers should be given training on how to tackle any problems.It has written to “leading employers” including those in the FTSE 100 and top “magic circle” law firms, setting their legal duties towards their employees and asking for evidence of their policies and practice.Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHRC, said: “We set out to discover how sexual harassment at work is dealt with by employers and how it is experienced by individuals. What we found was truly shocking.”There is a lack of consistent, effective action being taken by employers, and people’s careers and mental and physical health have been damaged as a result.”Corrosive cultures have silenced individuals and sexual harassment has been normalised. We underestimate extent and we are complacent as to impact.”We need urgent action to turn the tables in British workplaces, shifting from the current culture of people risking their jobs and health in order to report harassment, to placing the onus on employers to prevent and resolve it.”It cannot be right that millions of people go to work fearing what might have happened by the time they come home.”The recommendations were drawn up following evidence from nearly 1,000 individuals and employers, which found that the most common perpetrator of harassment was a senior colleague, while one in five of those responding had been harassed by a customer or client. In around half of cases where an incident was reported, employers took no action as a result. When action was taken this was often detrimental for the person who reported the issue. The recommendations said the Government should legislate to make contracts barring employees from talking about harassment or discrimination void.The Government should also survey employees every three years to get a better sense of the nature and scale of sexual harassment at work. Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, commented: “No woman should face humiliation, intimidation or harassment at work.”Sadly it’s becoming increasingly clear not only that it’s an all too common experience but that far too many employers are turning a blind eye or even silencing victims of harassment.”Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton said: “Reporting sexual harassment can be hard and particularly so if you are in a junior role, on low pay or in insecure work, for fear of losing your job and your income. This has to change.”We have heard a huge amount of testimonies that show how widespread this problem is but so far we have seen very little action.”Employers have come under pressure to protect their employees from harassment and abuse following allegations that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed and assaulted female actresses. Subsequent sexual harassment scandals have engulfed Parliament and several high-profile businesses across the City and other sectors. In some cases non-disclosure agreements have been used to prevent complainants from speaking out about their experiences. A Government spokesperson said: “This Government condemns all forms of workplace harassment, which is unlawful under the Equality Act. We are looking at all aspects of this wholly unacceptable behaviour, including the use of non-disclosure agreements.“We welcome the EHRC’s input into the debate about sexual harassment. We believe existing laws provide protection for both men and women in the working environment; however, we will continue to keep the operation of the legislation under review, to ensure that it works as intended.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.