Are you doing enough to protect your staff from harassment as they continue to work online from home? This is in the news after a survey published by Rights of Women which reveals that Covid-19 has seen a sharp rise cases of online sexual harassment with harassers taking advantage of online work platforms and social media during the pandemic. The research was carried out for The Independent and found almost half who had been subjected to sexual harassment said it was taking place remotely and that victims were finding it much harder to have their complaints adequately dealt with. 7 in 10 said their employer is not doing enough to protect them and 3 in 10 said the pandemic has blighted their response to the mistreatment.
A number of women described how the harassment had taken place. One, who chose to remain anonymous, said it happened on Zoom. The director of the company took screenshots of her and other women which he shared with colleagues and made derogatory statements about them. Another was targeted after a manager set up a WhatsApp chat-group to post updates or changes to the work schedule. The harasser took her phone number and started messaging her privately. Deeba Syed, senior legal officer at Rights of Women, is quoted saying women’s health and safety from sexual harassment at work is being undermined and overlooked by their employers and she called for the government to take action. Meanwhile Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, told The Independent the government needed to strengthen the law to place responsibility for preventing harassment on employers.
The government has looked at this. Back in 2019 they published a consultation in which one of the proposals was creating a new legal duty but that has stalled – the Equalities Office still hasn't reported back. The proposal was to create a new legal duty to replace the current 'reasonable steps' provisions in the Equality Act. The snag is that would require a change to primary legislation and the government has said it doesn't plan to do that unless it sees "compelling evidence that the change would be effective". More likely is we'll see a statutory code of practice instead, but progress on all this is slow - that consultation closed on 2 October 2019 and the government is yet to report back.
So back to the question - what can employers do to help protect their own staff given we know harassment online is a problem and is getting worse? The answer lies in educating every member of staff about harassment - managers and employees alike - so they can recognise it and know exactly how to respond to it. Given we are in a pandemic a very good way of training vast numbers quickly is to do it online through e-learning and so that that end we have devised a pair of modules which we can tell you about briefly.
Both modules are similar in length, at around 45 minutes to complete. They are both interactive, with a number of exercises built into them designed to test understanding, and opportunities to make notes and then test knowledge through a series of questions which will then give you a score at the end. That side of things is very flexible, so you set the pass/fail mark and if the individual doesn’t hit the pass mark then they only have to retake the questions that they get wrong. The other reason why that record is important is in the event you ended up in an employment tribunal defending a claim of sex discrimination you would be able to point to those records as part of your reasonable steps defence, and we have seen that happen.
Every module comes with a licence for an unlimited number of users which means hundreds of people can all be trained for a one-off purchase cost, with the option to repeat the training as many times as you like without any further cost. Each of the modules costs £3,750 and they are designed to run on your organisation’s Learning Management System – we work with your IT people to help set that up and test it thoroughly before you buy. Included for that cost is a degree of tailoring – adding your organisation's logo throughout along with any documents you'd like to add such as your Harassment and Equal Opportunities Policy.
Again, if you would like to have a closer look at any of the modules you can, we are offering a free demonstration so please do get in touch if this might be something you want to consider for your staff. For further details you can contact the Employment Law Plus Team – details are on the screen.