EHRC sexual harassment and harassment at work technical guidance toolkit

In January 2020 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued guidance on sexual harassment and other forms of harassment at work to help UK employers understand the extent and impact of harassment in the workplace, the law in this area and best practice for effective prevention and response.

In the UK, employers are responsible for ensuring that workers do not face harassment in their workplace. The EHRC has a set of powerful tools to enforce the law, including the ability to take organisations to court and intervene in individual cases.

“The scale of harassment that we and others have found is disturbing – and has been largely hidden due to under-reporting. Low reporting rates have often been taken by employers to mean that harassment is uncommon in their workplace. In fact, a lack of reported incidents could reflect an absence of confidence in reporting and resolution procedures, indicating an even greater problem.”

In its report, the EHRC further identifies “a lack of appropriate reporting procedures” as a key factor in the under-reporting of workplace harassment.

The guidance confirms that employers are legally required to take steps to prevent and respond to harassment, including a suggestion that employers should “consider using a reporting system that allows workers to raise an issue anonymously or in name.”

To help UK businesses better prepare for compliance with this guidance Vault Platform has issued a concise toolkit detailing support for such a misconduct reporting system as specified in the guidance.

Chapter 3. What is victimisation?

3.1. Our ‘Turning the Tables’ report revealed that fear of victimisation is one of the biggest barriers to people reporting harassment at work. It is important that employers recognise the role that fear of victimisation plays in relation to how they approach and deal with harassment and sexual harassment at work.

Vault Platform eliminates fear of victimisation by giving employees a confidential space they feel safe to speak up in. Employees can choose to report in name or anonymously, or if they fear going alone the GoTogether(™) feature will withhold a report from being submitted until the perpetrator is named in another report, ensuring that the reporter would not be alone in their claims.

Chapter 4. Taking all reasonable steps to prevent harassment

4.25. …if an employer improved its reporting and investigation processes after a previous incident, this will help an employer to establish that it has taken preventative steps in relation to the current act of harassment.

Vault Platform solves the problem of “a lack of appropriate reporting procedures” as identified by EHRC. Simple and unintrusive to deploy, an implementation of Vault Platform can demonstrate that an employer has taken preventative steps.

Chapter 5. Taking steps to prevent and respond to harassment

5.3. This should not be a one-off exercise. Employers should continue to review whether there are any further steps it is practicable for them to take, considering issues such as whether there have been any changes in the workplace or the workforce and the availability of new technology such as new reporting systems.

Vault Platform is disrupting incumbent solutions, such as anonymous reporting hotlines, that have remained unchanged for decades. Vault Platform’s technological solution comprises a consumer-grade mobile app for reporting and an enterprise-grade resolution hub for case management, introducing innovative time-stamping, security, and communication technology previously unavailable in legacy solutions.

5.20. Employers should consider introducing an online or externally run telephone reporting system which allows workers to make complaints on either a named or anonymous basis…this will ensure that those complaints that would otherwise go unreported are captured.

Vault Platform points to research that identifies telephone hotlines as the least used of all reporting tools. Furthermore, anonymous only hotlines send the message to employees that it is not safe for them to speak up. Vault Platform creates a safe and confidential space for employees to voice their concerns and acts as a secure two-way communication channel between the employee and the case manager.

5.34. …define multiple reporting channels for workers who wish to report harassment, to ensure that a worker is not required to report an incident to the perpetrator or someone who they may feel will not be objective.

5.40. The formal reporting channels set out in the anti-harassment policy should ensure, wherever possible, that a worker is able to raise an act of harassment or victimisation with someone other than the alleged harasser.

Vault Platform argues that open door policies and processes requiring workers to report up the chain of command are ineffective and promote under-reporting. Vault Platform creates a safe and confidential space for employees to voice their concerns internally and without needing to engage with the perpetrator or someone who they feel may not be objective.

Reporting outcomes and data protection

Vault Platform is aware of employer concerns that reporting outcomes such as action taken against the harasser, may be a breach of obligations that it owes to the harasser, including a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Vault Platform welcomes the EHRC guidance that this is not the case.

5.66. …if a complaint is upheld then the complainant should be told what action has been taken to address this including action taken to address the specific complaint and any measures taken to prevent a similar event happening again in the future. If the complainant is not told what action has been taken, this may leave them feeling that their complaint has not been taken seriously or addressed adequately.

Employers may have concerns that reporting outcomes such as disciplinary action taken against the harasser, may be a breach of obligations that it owes to the harasser. In particular, they may be concerned about breaching the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, while employers must comply with the data protection principles under Article 5 GDPR, they should not assume that disclosure of the harasser’s personal data will amount to a breach of the GDPR. It often will not.

Vault Platform believes that one of the many reasons legacy reporting tools such as anonymous hotlines are ineffective is because once a complaint has been made there is no way to update the reporter or inform them of any outcome. Therefore there is little incentive to submit a report.

Vault Platform enables reporting both in name and anonymously and in both cases acts as a secure communication channel between the employer and the case manager, preserving the reporter’s anonymity should they desire.

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