Labour MP Angela Rayner Reveals Sexual Harassment Protection Plans For Interns and Volunteers

Angela Rayner, MP and deputy leader of the Labour Party, has recently revealed plans to impose stronger sexual harassment protection laws, particularly for interns and volunteers.

Today, we discuss current legislation governing sexual harassment in the workplace and how these proposals will help to bolster sexual harassment protection for workers in the UK.

Sexual Harassment Can Ruin Careers and Confidence, Says MP Angela Rayner

Speaking at the Chartered Management Institute’s Women’s Conference on 9 May, MP Angela Rayner explained that the proposed legislation would purport to make employers liable if they fail to take action upon becoming aware of any incident of sexual harassment against interns and/or volunteers.

The Labour Party had already promised to provide greater sexual harassment protection to employees by requiring businesses to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. However, following Angela Rayner’s announcement, it is clear that these plans purport to protect not only employees but also those who undertake internships or volunteer for a business.

During her speech, Angela Rayner strove to explain the motivation behind the proposals, stating that “sexual harassment remains rife in workplaces across Britain”. This can negatively impact or even ruin careers, as well as the individual’s confidence, especially as an intern or volunteer. She adds, “My message to working women is clear: with our New Deal for Working People, a Labour government will have your back.”

CEO of the Chartered Management Institute Ann Francke greeted the Labour Party’s approach to greater sexual harassment protection with enthusiasm. She said that “skilled managers know full well that people do their best work when they feel valued and able to focus on the job at hand, not worried about sexual harassment, bullying or other bad behaviour.”

Sexual Harassment at Work: What Does UK Law Say?

In England and Wales, there are already some laws in place which aim to provide workers with sexual harassment protection. Sexual harassment (i.e. unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature) is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. The behaviour in question must have violated someone’s dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them (in each case, whether intended or not).

Whilst the individual carrying out the unwanted behaviour will be personally responsible; the employer may also be held responsible if they haven’t taken all reasonable steps to provide their staff with sexual harassment protection. However, the Equality Act is limited in the sense that it does not oblige employers to take such steps, and the current law only applies to employees and workers, contractors, and job applicants (not extending to interns or volunteers).

New legislation set to come into force in October 2024 will make employers liable if any third party (including, for instance, a client or customer) sexually harasses one of their employees unless they have provided adequate sexual harassment protection. The Worker Protection Act 2023 (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) will require employers to take “all reasonable steps” to put proactive measures in place to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Although there is no definition of “reasonable steps” in the new legislation, these steps need to be “practical, proportionate, and tailored to the circumstances of the workplace”.  Moreover, the actions should encompass relevant training provisions, implementation of appropriate incident reporting channels, and establishment of effective anti-harassment policies.

The new law will also increase the amount of compensation for such sexual harassment cases by up to 25%.

Three out of Five Young Women Face Sexual Harassment, Abuse and Bullying at Work

Despite the existing legislation, sexual harassment in the workplace remains a prevalent problem. According to a survey of 1,000 women by the TUC, 58% of women reported having experienced sexual harassment, verbal abuse, or bullying in the workplace, with 43% recalling at least three instances of sexual harassment.

Even more worryingly, a survey of 2,000 employees conducted by Personio has shown that, of the 10% of employees to have experienced or witnessed some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, 49% did not report it. Reasons for this are believed to include embarrassment, concerns about not being believed, and a fear of retaliation or retribution.

Director of people partners and EDI at Personio, Pete Cooper, has expressed disappointment with the survey results. “A workplace culture that prioritises trust and transparency is critical,” he states, adding that it’s not only crucial for people to know about reporting processes, but they need to feel safe using them.

How Redmans Solicitors Can Help

If you have experienced instances of sexual harassment in the workplace, our experts here at Redmans Solicitors can help. We have assisted victims of sexual harassment to bring successful claims against their former employers. Contact us today for an initial, free consultation to find out your rights and your options.

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