20 October 2023

Today is a huge day in the fight against workplace sexual harassment in the UK.

We are delighted that The Worker Protection Bill has passed its final stage in the House of Commons which means it will become law before the end of the year.

Everybody deserves to feel safe at work but the harsh reality is that too many women don't because workplace cultures allow sexual harassment to thrive. Recent news stories have shown just how deep the crisis is and the research backs it up. At a minimum, sexual harssment is experienced by 40% of women in the workforce over the course of their career. Different women experience different rates and forms of harassment. People of colour report even higher rates of sexual harassment while 68% of disabled women and LGBTQ+ workers have experienced workplace harassment. 

Fawcett is incredibly proud to have led, along with Wera Hobhouse MP and the This Is Not Working Alliance, on bringing in this legislation that will begin to make work safer for everybody. We couldn't have done this without Fawcett members, who funded this work, and many of whom wrote to their MPs in support of this bill. 

This law will create a 'preventative duty': a requirement that employers prevent sexual harassment from happening in their workplaces and moves us from a culture of redress to one of prevention. This means clear policies, training, and proper, impartial investigations into reported harassment. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission will be able to take enforcement action against firms that breach this duty, and employers will also be liable to individuals as part of wider sexual harassment claims at an employment tribunal. 

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, said:

Sexual harassment harms women and the slew of recent high-profile cases shows it is rife in our workplaces. It's hard to believe that women have had to put up with this for so long but it ends now. Working cultures that allow sexual harsssment to thrive should be consigned to the history books - we need to look forward to truly equal workplaces. This Bill is a big step forward and it's testament to the power of Fawcett and our members and allies working together to bring about changes that makes workplaces work for women.

Wera Hobhouse MP, Member for Bath, said:

79% of women do not report incidents of sexual harassment at work. Clearly the system is broken but passing my bill is a massive step towards fixing it. I am beyond thankful for the support the Fawcett Society has given to carrying my bill forward. Together, we have brought a landmark change for women across the UK. 

While we are celebrating this landmark for worker protection, we must remember that in 2021 this government committed to introducing 'third party protections' in addition to the preventative duty. Third party protections create a similar onus on employers to protect their staff from harassment at the hands of third parties, like customers of patients. We are extremely disappointed to see government drop its support for this critical reform - with it, this law would be stronger and work better for women. So, at the same time as celebrating today's news, we are reiterating our commitment to the next fight to see third party protections put in place. Women deserve no less. 

How did we get here?

More from Fawcett on preventing sexual harassment 

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