From sexual harassment at work to pregnancy discrimination

This week’s HR round-up covers everything from the approval of a new Bill on sexual harassment at work to a pregnancy discrimination tribunal ruling.


Bill on sexual harassment at work passes

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill which covers sexual harassment at work has been approved and awaits Royal Assent.

The Bill will impose a new duty on UK employers to take reasonable steps to prevent their employees being sexually harassed at work. Employment tribunals will also be able to increase awards by 25 per cent where the duty to prevent harassment has not been complied with.

It has proved controversial after a proposed liability on employers for harassment of their employees by third parties was dropped and a proactive duty on employers to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment was diluted, removing the word ‘all’.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, says “Harassment continues to be a significant issue in the workplace. Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

“It is therefore surprising that the government has made such amendments to remove from the Bill the proposed liability on employers for harassment of their employees by third parties and diluted the duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment.

“The increase in regulation for employers and resulting claims that may have occurred because of the initial drafting of the Bill is now likely diminished because of these latest changes.

“It is vital for employers to remember, however, that the prevention of harassment should remain a central focus given that sexual harassment remains prevalent and that claims by employees who have been harassed by third parties could still be made indirectly through constructive dismissal claims.”

One in two British workers looking for new job

One in two (51%) in the UK plan to actively look for new jobs in the next six months, according to a survey by Morgan McKinley, with more pay by far the main motivation, followed by ‘meaningful and impactful work’.

The research, conducted as part of Morgan McKinley’s 2024 Salary Guide with 650 businesses and 3,400 professionals, found that British workers were not happy with the benefits they received: 59% being ‘neutral’, ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘highly dissatisfied’ with their packages. The top five desired benefits British workers look for in a job are: Work from home, bonus, pension, health insurance and flexible working hours.

Despite this, the survey found 49% of professionals in the UK are optimistic that they will receive a salary increase in 2024 and 70% of employers plan to increase salary offers in 2024 for certain in-demand roles.

As for employers, the survey revealed that 86% of organisations in the UK have found hiring ‘quite’ or ‘very’ competitive in 2023. 46% have lost out on hiring new talent in the last six months as they ‘can’t compete on salary and benefits’, and 40% expect ‘lack of skilled candidates available’ to be their greatest 2024 recruitment challenge. In addition, over half (52%) of UK businesses still plan to hire in the next six months.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released this week show that the unemployment rate between June and August was 4.2%. This was up from 4% in the March-to-May quarter, but unchanged from last month’s data. The ONS said the new data was “experimental”.

Crackdown on 4-day week

Despite demand for flexible working, ministers are reported to have formally warned councils in England against adopting four-day working weeks for staff.

Government guidance says local authorities that have adopted the work pattern should end the practice immediately. While supporters of the four-day week argue that it improves staff wellbeing and productivity, the government believes that it does not represent value for money and is concerned service quality will decline.

But councils say new ways need to be found to address the recruitment crisis in local government. Pete Marland, chair of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said: “It is councils who know what works best for their community, workforce and in their wider labour market conditions.”

The 4-Day Week campaign stated: “If ministers were confident the 4-day week wouldn’t work, they’d let current council trials play out, let results speak for themselves, and stop trying to bully other councils into staying away. But they’re not. They can see the likely outcome. That it’s time for a 4-day week.”

In other flexible working news, a report by Hays found that more professionals are now working full time in an office setting than those who are working in a hybrid way. Less than two in five workers (39%) are working in a hybrid way versus close to half (43%) of workers who say they are now working fully in an office setting.

Last year, more professionals were splitting their working time between home and the workplace (43%) versus those who were working fully in an office setting (36%). Less than one in five (18%) workers say they are working fully remotely now, versus 21% of workers last year.

The research, based on a survey of nearly 15,000 professionals and employers, found that nearly two-thirds of employers (61%) are offering hybrid working, yet nearly a quarter (24%) of employers anticipate their hybrid working offering will change over the next 12 months and that they will require increased staff attendance.

While the research found that over half (57%) of workers said they would accept a job in the future if it didn’t offer hybrid working, particularly those outside London, just over two in five (43%) of professionals admitted they wouldn’t accept a role that didn’t adopt a hybrid approach to working.

More and more employers are pushing for workers to return more days to the office, with Amazon reported this week to be threatening dismissal for those who refuse to come back to the office at least three days a week.

Real Living Wage rises as cap on bankers’ bonuses is removed

The voluntary real Living Wage has risen to £12 an hour this week, affecting nearly half a million workers whose employers are signed up.

In London the rate is £13.15 an hour. The rate is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. It contrasts with the minimum wage which is currently £10.42 an hour, though rates are lower for younger workers. The Government has said that the national minimum wage will rise to £11 an hour from April 2024.

Meanwhile, the cap on bankers’ bonuses is being removed as of 31st October. The cap limited bonuses to a maximum of twice the basic salary and was imposed to curb excessive risk-taking in the City in 2014 after the 2008 economic crash. The decision to remove the cap follows a consultation by the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority which found ‘unintended consequences’, including salary increases, had occurred. They also said removing the cap would give banks extra flexibility in a volatile financial environment. The TUC called the decision ‘obscene’ and ‘an insult to working people’.

Call for investors to publish data on diversity is rejected

The Government has dismissed calls for the Treasury Select Committee to demand that investors disclose the gender and ethnic breakdown of recipients of their funding and their own staff in order to access tax breaks.

The government said the recommendation would result in legal complexities and extra red tape. It added that private individual investors using the schemes “would not necessarily have access to this information or any particular right to receive it” and that beneficiary companies could be harmed by the additional administrative burdens.

It comes as a report on gender equality from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Environmental, social, and corporate governance [ESG] called for the Government to make clear statements calling for progress towards gender equality in entrepreneurship as well as adopting a coordinated approach to ensure women-founded businesses receive loans at the same rate and value as their male counterparts.

Just 17.3% of UK companies were female-led in 2022/23, according to The Gender Index while the British Business Bank states that loans granted to women are significantly lower, £174,000 on average for women than the £507,000 men are granted.

The report says the Government needs to scale up its efforts to raise the profile of the Investing in Women Code (IIWC) to increase participation in terms of signatories, engagement with investors and the sharing of data.

It also recommended that the target for executive women on boards be raised to 40% to ‘spur momentum’ on gender equality at work, with the scope of the target being widened to include the 500 largest publicly listed companies and 100 largest private companies.

Meanwhile, Iceland’s Prime Minister joined the strike for gender pay equality and against gender-based violence this week. Women in Iceland refused to do any paid or unpaid work on Tuesday. The event is the first full-day women’s strike since 1975, when 90% of Icelandic women went on strike. Iceland regularly tops world rankings on gender equality, but there is still a pay gap of up to 21% in some professions and experiences of gender-based or sexual violence are widespread.

Government tightens Universal Credit rules for parents

The Government has announced that from this week parents of children over three who are on Universal Credit will have to seek up to 30 hours of work a week or risk facing benefits sanctions.

Parents of three to 12 year olds will have to work with a work coach and be available to work or be available to work up to 30 hours a week. If they don’t they could be sanctioned. Before today, they had to be available for up to 16 hours a week so the change represents nearly a doubling in hours.

The Department for Work and Pensions says commitments will be tailored to parents’ personal circumstances, including the availability of childcare, although there are concerns over how this will be interpreted. Job Centre Pluses will help with updating CVs or developing skills through courses and workshops.

Woman wins pregnancy discrimination case

A Somerset woman has won her pregnancy discrimination case, after a cheese company moved her into a lower paid role while she was expecting a baby.

White Lake Cheese’s CEO moved Storm Botha from an office role, which paid £11 per hour, to a “wrapping” role in cheese production, which paid £9.50 per hour. Botha was told about this move in late September 2021, around two weeks after informing her line-manager that she was pregnant.

Roger Longman, the company’s CEO, said he was unaware of Botha’s pregnancy at the time. But an employment tribunal in Bristol ruled that his decision was “influenced by and motivated by her pregnancy”.

The tribunal’s ruling was made in August and published this month. Botha’s compensation will be decided at a future hearing.

Read more here.

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