WATCH: Wera Hobhouse asks PM to support her bill to tackle workplace sexual harassment

Yesterday, Wera Hobhouse asked the Prime Minister to ensure her bill aimed at tackling workplace sexual harassment has a safe passage through Parliament. The Government has already agreed to support it, but it needs to free up the parliamentary time for it to complete its stages before the end of the session in the Spring.

Watch her here:

In response, the Prime Minister’s words were warm but he didn’t actually give a specific commitment:

I thank the hon. Lady for her important work on this issue. Sexual harassment has absolutely no place in the workplace. Everyone should feel safe at work. Of course, we need to make sure that legislation does not have unintended consequences, but I know she is meeting my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities to discuss the Bill further. I look forward to hearing about the progress in that meeting.

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  • Mel Borthwaite 12th Jan '23 - 11:15pm

    My disagreement with the Bill as tabled is that it does not go far enough. If passed as drafted, all that employers will have to do to avoid liability is to show that they have taken ‘all reasonable measures’ to protect their workforce from third party sexual harassment. My concern is the word ‘reasonable’. It is not acceptable that workers should have to face sexual harassment at work and employers should be required to take ‘any’ measures necessary to protect their employees, irrespective of any loss of profitability or other consequence. Health and Safety of the workforce should be the paramount priority and employers should be liable if it isn’t.

  • Mel,

    I can understand your concern, but your post is really difficult to understand.

    We all agree that “It is not acceptable that workers should have to face sexual harassment at work,” that’s the easy bit, but do you really want employers to take *unreasonable measures* to protect their employees? Instead you say “employers should be required to take ‘any’ measures necessary to protect their employees” but that sound both tough and lax simultaneously. Instead of any do you mean all?

    The key question is what level of protection do you want. Do you want absolute total protection in all circumstances or if not what is your view as to what level would be acceptable?

    I’m sure you have a good point here, and probably several good ideas, but you don’t make it clear what they are.

  • Mel Borthwaite 13th Jan '23 - 6:31pm

    @David Evans
    Thanks for you comment. Let me try to expand my point.
    My issue is the idea of ‘reasonable’ and how that is likely to be interpreted. For example, if a man sexually harasses female members of staff at his local Tesco store, is it reasonable that he is banned from the store to protect staff? I think ‘yes’, though maybe Tesco management may feel that that would be an unreasonable consequence. If we assume that being banned from the Tesco superstore was reasonable, would it be reasonable for nearby superstores in the town to also ban the man from their stores as well? Again I say ‘yes’ as I don’t see why female employees of the nearby superstores should get any less protection than those in the Tesco store, but I strongly suspect that such a move would be seen as “unreasonable”. I know that some will raise concerns about the difficulties it may cause the main if he finds himself banned from a number of businesses, but my point is that the needs of his potential victims should come first.

  • @Mel – I’m with David on this I’m afraid.

    ‘Reasonable” is a commonly used and well understood term.

    But what does a workplace look like which takes every measure possible? 100% CCTV coverage with voice recording throughout? Automated or human analysis of all company communications? A total ban on social events outside of work hours due to the inability to impose the above?

    It would require a level of surveillance and enforcement (and loss of privacy) that we don’t even grant the Police in a Liberal democracy. We have rights to privacy and freedom of expression/association that have to be respected and sensibly balanced against measures to prevent crime.

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