October 20, 2021

Only 10% of employers have refreshed their Sexual Harassment Training since the start of the pandemic

sexual harassment at work

A recent poll of businesses by Royds Withy King and Fram Search has shown that only 10% of employers have refreshed their Sexual Harassment Training and Policy since the start of the pandemic. This is despite the recent case of Allay (UK) Limited v Gehlen in the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The EAT clearly stated that the employer’s anti-discrimination training had become “stale” after less than 2 years, and that “if it is clear that training has not been effective, further action will be required, even if refresher training would not usually have been provided within such a timescale”. It further added that “the less effective training is, the more quickly it becomes stale”.

Employers are usually vicariously liable for harassment perpetrated by their staff, not only while at work but even at less formal work-related social events, unless employers can demonstrate that they have taken meaningful and reasonable steps to prevent harassment. Reasonable steps usually include training staff, having sensible policies which staff actually know about and understand, and dealing with any issues pro-actively. These are actions which HR and managers can take now to prevent future harassment, whether inadvertent or otherwise. Taking such steps will protect their staff, and ensure that any rogue harasser is solely liable for any acts of harassment. Compensation for discrimination is unlimited, so failure to refresh training or policies can be an expensive oversight.

Caroline Doran Millett, International Employment Partner, says

“The Pandemic has created a seismic shift in both the way we work and the manner in which staff are exposed to harassment. Remote and hybrid working have blurred the lines of work and home, and changed how we interact with colleagues. There is evidence of an increased level of unacceptable and sexist comments from colleagues about women’s appearance on virtual meetings, cyber harassment and sexual messages since 2020..  RWK’s employer survey indicates that 90% of employers have not updated their Prevention of Harassment Policies and Training to reflect the new Post-Pandemic working environment which means that the legal, financial and reputation liability for harassment will remain firmly with the employer. Prevention is better than a cure, so employers should take some simple steps now to protect their staff and their ED&I reputation.”

Simon Roderick, Managing Director of Fram Search, the specialist Financial Services recruitment company, says

“COVID has changed the workplace at a speed not seen before and is placing huge demands on leaders, teams, and those who connect them, HR professionals. Hybrid working is still in its infancy and will create huge opportunities for firms to re-imagine the world of work, but it will also throw up challenges. The world we’ve emerged into requires slightly different skills and those firms who adapt the fastest will benefit the most”.

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