Employers and business leaders need to be more proactive ahead of new legislation designed to protect employees from sexual harassment, a leading expert has said.

From October, employers will need to comply with a legal duty to take ‘reasonable steps’ aiming to prevent sexual harassment of employees.

This follows the passing of the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023.

Under the Act, employment tribunals will have the power to increase compensation by up to 25 per cent if it finds that an employer has breached this duty.

Philip Grindell, the CEO and founder of Defuse Global, specialises in supporting businesses in this area, and he believes too many companies are woefully ill-prepared for the changes coming down the line.

“Employers shouldn’t wait until October to make changes,” he said. “The key is to be proactive right now. Employers who delay may find themselves extremely vulnerable by the time the new law comes in.”

His warning comes at a time when sexual harassment remains a significant issue in the UK workplace.

Recent data from the Office of National Statistics reveals almost 67% of women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment at work, with some cases escalating to criminal levels.

Despite laws against such behaviour, the statistics indicate more needs to be done to address and prevent these incidents.

Explaining how the law will change what employers have to do, Mr Grindell said: “Employers will need to prioritise preventing sexual harassment at work by taking proactive steps. The new legislation emphasises the importance of consistently reviewing and updating harassment policies. It will also require employers to conduct frequent training sessions, and handle complaints seriously.

“It’s crucial for employers to take consistent action beyond policies and training to foster a safe and inclusive workplace. Regular workplace assessments are essential to ensure the effectiveness of existing measures.”

Outlining why employers should care and take this issue seriously, Mr Grindell explained: “Apart from the human response and the obvious duty of care, failing to be proactive may result in many other problems. These can include legal consequences like lawsuits and compensation claims, reputational damage, reduced employee morale and increased turnover and decreased productivity from employees.”

Setting out the eight steps he believes employers should look to implement now and ahead of the law-change, Mr Grindell said:

  • Have clear policies: Develop and communicate clear policies on sexual harassment.
  • Invest in training: Introduce new regular training for all employees on recognising and preventing harassment.
  • Ensure you have reporting mechanisms: Establish straightforward procedures for reporting harassment.
  • Conduct prompt investigations: Investigate all complaints promptly and thoroughly, and mindful of incidents where criminal offences may have been committed
  • Guarantee confidentiality: Ensure that complaints are handled confidentially.
  • Make sure you offer non-retaliation: Protect complainants from retaliation.
  • Take appropriate actions: Take disciplinary action against perpetrators when necessary.
  • Offer support for victims: Provide access to counselling and support services.

Mr Grindell supports businesses in this area by providing training that focuses on behavioural indicators rather than conflict management. His team also conduct independent investigations and can provide law enforcement liaison and advisory services.