Free sexual harassment advice line launched by Emma Watson

The line offers legal advice to women in the workplace and helps them to make ‘informed’ choices about the next steps to take if they wish to make an accusation.

Launched in collaboration with charity bodies Time’s Up UK, Rosa and Rights of Women, former Harry Potter star Emma Watson is helping to fund the line, which is now live. Its services are provided by volunteer female employment lawyers and Rights of Women legal staff, with the aim of increasing understanding of discrimination law for female employees and helping them to hold organisations and harassers to account. As outlined by the senior legal officer for the service, Deeba Syed, its purpose, ‘is to empower women to exercise their legal rights in the workplace’.

Watson, a strong supporter of the #MeToo movement, states it is ‘staggering’ such a service did not already exist and that people are ‘finally’ realising the ‘scale of the problem’. She explains that, ‘understanding what your rights are, how you can assert them and the choices you have if you’ve experienced harassment is such a vital part of creating safe workplaces for everyone.’ The line will also offer advice on settlement and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) alongside other related legal problems faced by women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.

With the TUC recently finding that as many as one in two women have experienced sexual harassment at work, this development sends a clear message to organisations that this issue remains a key area of scrutiny and it is something they must be prepared to combat. Whilst this advice line will not have any accountability powers of its own, employees will be able to use it to seek further legal advice on key areas like the process bringing a discrimination claim, something that could be a significant issue for organisations.

It is therefore vital that organisations maintain a clear policy confirming which forms of behaviour will not be tolerated in the workplace, alongside the consequences for employees if they are found to have committed such actions. They must also ensure that they thoroughly investigate all accusations of sexual harassment whenever they are brought to their attention and respond to them in a consistent and fair manner.

Syed accuses modern day organisations of responding to this form of complaint in a ‘gendered manner that is negative, undermining or can lead to victimisation’. To this end, she confirms that the service will also ‘work towards dismantling the underlying structural problems that puts the burden on victims and makes it difficult for women to come forward’.

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