Improving Women Workers Protection Against Sexual Harrassment

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Conference
2019 National Women's Conference
Date
25 October 2018
Decision

Conference recognises the work that UNISON has undertaken on the issues of sexual harassment, particularly the joint research in 2018 with the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Surrey on the levels of sexual harassment in the police force.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing new. Attacks against women take place in the street and in our workplace not just in Hollywood. The recent #MeToo campaign has started a debate about unwanted sexual conduct and has empowered women to come forward.

In addition to a 2016 TUC study which found that 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes; a recent survey by the TUC found that 7% of women who had experienced harassment reported that the perpetrator was a ‘third-party person’. In support of these findings, research carried out by the BBC showed that between five and 8% who had experienced harassment was due to a client or customer and 16% of verbal sexual advances were perpetrated by a third party.

Section.40 of the Equality Act 2010 made the position clear on third party harassment. If harassment had previously occurred on two occasions and the employer was aware of it, but failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it from happening again – known as the “three-strikes rule” – then the employer could be held liable. The harassment did not need to be by the same third party or be of the same nature. However, the Coalition Government repealed this section in the Equalities Act which would have offered direct protection to workers against third-party harassment, including sexual harassment.

The government claimed that other legislation could bring about similar protection and that someone may be able to bring a claim for third party harassment under the general harassment provisions in the Equality Act 2010 (Section 26 (1)). However, in a Court of Appeal ruling involving Unite the Union and Nailard, it was established that third-party harassment would not be covered by the Equalities Act, except in very limited and specific circumstances. This means that employers are unlikely to be liable if they do not adequately protect against third party sexual harassment.

The fifth report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace by UK Parliament Women’s And Equalities Committee, states they believe a new protection must be put in place, to cover new and repeated cases of harassment by third parties. Conference believes that the original Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 needs to be reinstated.

Conference also believes that we must ensure that our activists and branch officers are equipped to support women who wish to report sexual harassment at work.

Conference is aware that many women will not raise a formal complaint until some considerable time has passed. Complaints of sexual harassment will usually only be considered at an employment tribunal if the worker makes a claim within three months of when the last incident took place. Consequently, many historic allegations are effectively time barred from being heard at an Employment Tribunal.

Conference calls upon the National Women’s Committee to work with the appropriate UNISON committees, Labour Link and external bodies to;

1. Campaign for the reinstatement of Section 40 of the Equality Act on ‘third party

protection’.

2. Campaign for an extension of time limits in Sexual Harassment cases similar to the time limits currently applied in Equal Pay cases

3. Continue support for the #MeToo and #Timesup campaigns

4. Develop a toolkit for activists and branch officers that includes:

a) Guidance on negotiating a sexual harassment policy, including a template policy

b) Advise for branches on how to support members who report sexual harassment

in the workplace;

c) Information on external agencies that branches can signpost victims to for expert

support and counselling outside of the workplace.

5. Work with Learning and Organising Services to provide specific training for

activists on sexual harassment in the workplace and how to develop workplace

policies