Fawcett Society calls for sex discrimination and harassment laws to be strengthened

Reforms to current laws protecting women in the workplace are recommended following wide-ranging review in to sex discrimination.

A report published by the Fawcett Society (FS) has found violence against women in the UK is ‘endemic’ whilst criticising the current legal system for failing to protect women, particularly those in the workplace. The report focuses on numerous areas of concern including: violence and harassment; equality of pay; and leave.

When examining violence and harassment, the study revealed half of all women have suffered sexual harassment whilst at work. The Society have called for changes to be made to strengthen laws in this area, in particular through reintroducing s40 Equality Act 2010. This would make organisations responsible for sexual harassment by third parties (eg customers, service users or contractors) if they were aware of previous incidents of harassment by the third party and had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it from happening. The Society suggests amending the law to only require one previous incident of harassment, previously set at two past incidents.

The Fawcett Society acknowledges the gender pay gap is complex but comments that efforts to reduce the gap have stalled, with a lack of transparency actively preventing women from challenging unequal pay. The Society recommends introducing civil penalties for organisations who fail to report their gender pay gap, with an extension of the scheme to include all organisations with a minimum of 50 employees.

The report reiterates the yearly figure of 54,000 pregnant women and working mothers who are ‘pressured’ into leaving their jobs. The Society recommends increasing the protection period for maternity and pregnancy discrimination by six months, providing protection for the period directly after the woman’s return to work from maternity leave.

Other recommendations include:

  • introducing a reasonable time off for breastfeeding mothers
  • making statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental pay available from day one of employment
  • extending paternity leave from two to six weeks, to be taken during the first year after birth, and
  • introducing triennial mandatory equal pay audits for organisations with 250 employees or more.

In light of the report organisations should actively look to address sex discrimination and harassment in the workplace. All employees should undergo anti-discrimination training, ensuring staff are fully aware of what is deemed unacceptable behaviour. Having a clear and effective grievance policy for employees who wish to raise discrimination complaints is also vitally important.

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