#MeToo Matters – our March 2023 Campaign to Stamp Out Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Published: 20 Mar 2023

Martin Searle Solicitors Employment Law Team launch their campaign “#MeToo Matters” to Stamp Out Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in March 2023

The Martin Searle Solicitors Employment Law team have found that sexual harassment in the workplace remains a problem, particularly now people have returned to work and are once again attending business conferences and work social events.

In February 2023 the media publicised the fact that McDonald’s have signed a legal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to show they are committed to communicating a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment. This was in response to a number of high-profile international claims, the most newsworthy being a 2020 class action filed in the US representing more than 5,000 women at more than 100 McDonald’s locations. And the concerns by the EHRC about their handling of sexual harassment complaints made by staff in the UK.

A 2020 survey carried out by the Government Equalities Office found that 30% of women had experienced sexual harassment at work over the past year, as compared with 27% of men. Only 51% thought that their employer was tackling sexual harassment well. Two thirds of those surveyed had not noticed any changes in how their employer approached the issue of sexual harassment at work.

A government study published in 2020 found that just 15% of people who had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace felt confident making a complaint to their employer, something which makes it likely that employers will underestimate the level of harassment taking place. Out of those who did report it, 41% said that there were no consequences for the perpetrator.

The study also found that, although all employees can experience sexual harassment at work, there was a higher incidence among those aged under 35, people from an ethnic minority, those identifying as LGBT+, and those with a disability. 48% of those who reported their workplace sexual harassment were asked to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in relation to their experience.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) are committed to ensure that NDAs are not preventing staff from reporting these and similar issues to them or to other regulators or law enforcement agencies or making disclosures which are protected by law, such as whistleblowing. A Warning Notice was published in November 2020 which gave guidance to all managers and employees of law firms, those responsible for managing HR and complaints in law firms and practitioners dealing with NDA’s, including in-house lawyers.

This made it clear that anyone failing to report a serious breach of the solicitors’ regulatory requirements or other wrongdoing or criminal conduct, by them or their firm, or improperly using NDAs would be in breach of our SRA principles and liable to disciplinary action. They also made it clear that if the NDA sought to do any of the above, the practitioner might need to cease acting for their client.

Fiona Martin, Director and Head of Employment Law, said “We totally support our regulator’s move to ensure that people are able to speak out about what has happened to them and to be able to seek redress in the criminal courts and /or to ensure that the appropriate disciplinary action is taken against the perpetrator.

We also welcome the steps the EHRC are taking to encourage employers to take a stance on stamping out sexual harassment.

It is important that employers, in all sectors, encourage employees and workers to come forward, while discouraging this type of behaviour. Speaking out about sexual harassment is difficult with much at stake for the complainant, including reputation, career prospects and the fear of dismissal. A thorough investigation is crucial as those accused must be in a position to know the detail of the allegations in order to be able to defend themselves. Most importantly, employees should not be paid off and silenced using inappropriate NDA’s in Settlement Agreements so that no action is taken against the perpetrator”.

Martin Searle Solicitors have produced a series of free factsheets, case studies and FAQs for employers and employees covering sexual harassment at work.

On Thursday 23 March 2023, from 1pm – 2pm, Martin Searle Solicitors will be running a free virtual seminar for employers on ‘How to Deal Fairly with Allegations of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’. To book, click here.

They will also be running a free virtual workshop for employee advisers and Trade Union representatives on ‘Sexual Harassment at Work – How to Support Employees Bringing and Defending Allegations’. This will take place on Thursday 30 March 2023 from 1- 2pm. To book, click here.

Martin Searle Solicitors are also offering employers and employees a free initial 30 minute confidential advice call that will help employees understand their rights around sexual harassment, and provide advice to employers on creating a working environment where all employees feel safe and are supported by their employer. Their legal helpline will take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout March from 3.30pm to 5.30pm on 01273 609911. You can email to book an appointment at info@ms-solicitors.co.uk.

For more information about their campaign, please visit https://www.ms-solicitors.co.uk/metoo-matters/


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