In light of the #MeToo movement, the government has pledged to introduce a new code of practice for employers to better understand their legal responsibilities to protect staff from sexual harassment in the workplace.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority SRA has also decided to update its guidance for people making allegations of harassment, due to an increased number of recent reports.
The Women and Equalities Select Committee found that tackling sexual harassment should be given the same effort as preventing data misuse or money laundering.
In 2016 the Bar Standards Board conducted research into the implementation and effectiveness of their Equality Rules. It published its findings in a study called Woman at the Bar. Statistics show that 56% of female barristers have been subjected to sex discrimination at work, including sexual harassment.
ComRes, a marketing research consultancy, conducted a survey last year which reported that 40% of women and 18% of men experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work at some point in their working life.
A study led by the International Bar Association IBA, called Us Too, found a third of female lawyers have been subjected to sexual harassment at work. It also found that 50% of women and a third of men have faced bullying at work.
7,000 legal professionals from 135 countries responded to the Us Too survey. The UK had numbers of sexual harassment and bullying higher than France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
According to Us Too, perpetrators of the unwanted behaviour have gone unpunished, as 75% of the sexual harassment cases and 60% of the bullying cases were never reported.
The victims in the survey instead left their workplace, or are considering leaving their current workplace.
The incidents of the bullying and sexual harassment were not historical: 38% of bullying and 26% of sexual harassment cases occurred a year or less before the survey was completed.
ACAS has produced guidance as to what constitutes sexual harassment. Its definition reflects the definition found in the Equality Act, which defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, having the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of the victim, or creating an environment which can be intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive.
Sexual harassment can include:
- Sexual assault
- Unwanted physical contact or touching
- Emails with content of a sexual nature
- Displaying pornographic of explicit images
- Written or verbal comments of a sexual nature; regarding remarks about an employee’s appearance, questions about their sex life or offensive jokes
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