On the anniversary today of the birth of the #MeToo movement calling out sexual harassment and discrimination, law firm Bevan Brittan is warning that it has become essential for businesses to take positive steps to reduce the likelihood of instances happening in their own workplace.
Employers can be seen as vicariously liable if they did not take reasonable steps to prevent harassment or discrimination.
Julian Hoskins, employment law partner at Bevan Brittan, said: “All employees deserve to work in an environment free from sexually inappropriate behaviour. Employers who fail to prevent harassment at work are as much at risk of being sued as the perpetrators themselves.”
The number of allegations around historical incidents has increased as a result of raised awareness requiring employer investigation and action and consequent litigation risk.
The Government has also indicated that it may launch a consultation around the practice of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that are often imposed when an out-of-court settlement is reached. If these confidential payouts become more restricted, that could result in many more cases becoming public and going to court.
One key step for businesses to take is to provide training and awareness sessions for people at all levels in the organisation – from front-line staff to the Boardroom.
Julian Hoskins said: “A first line of defence for a business is to show that you took ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment. The most effective way to do that is to show that your workforce has had up to date and specific training on understanding, preventing, reporting and handling sexual harassment. This won’t solve historical cases but could help prevent future ones.”
Bevan Brittan also warns that, with the Christmas party season looming, awareness of the issue and appropriate behaviours is more important than ever.
Bevan Brittan provides organisations with essential training at a range of levels – for the workforce, HR and management teams, and at Board level. Details can be found here.