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What will sexual harassment laws look like in a post-Brexit Britain?

Sexual harassment at work - will anything change after Brexit?

Will employees lose certain protections after the UK has left the EU?

Although it may be hard to believe, with politicians still disagreeing on the best possible plan for the UK leaving the EU, Brexit is almost in sight. Again. Or is it? Does anyone know? We’ve lost track!

On a seemingly different topic, claims of sexual harassment have been rife in the news over the last few years, with some huge names and brands across the globe being dragged into various scandals.

A survey conducted by the BBC found that half of British women and a fifth of British men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study. Perhaps even more concerning are the lack of people coming forward to report cases of sexual harassment or abuse, with 63% of the women who took part in the survey saying they didn’t report it to anyone, and it’s even higher for the men - with 79% of them not reporting it either.

But what about sexual harassment in a post-Brexit UK? What will that look like? Will things drastically change? Will workers lose protections and rights?

Don’t panic, there’s good news

We’ve already had confirmation from the government that any pre-existing equality and employment laws will remain in place after we leave the EU. Included in these laws is protection against harassment, victimisation and discrimination in UK workplaces.  

It’s also important to remember that whilst there is a possibility (albeit a small possibility) that new laws could be passed or changed without little scrutiny, there is an obligation on ministers to consider ‘equality in all circumstances’ when exercising these powers.

Additionally, IF any changes to the laws were to go ahead, nothing will change overnight. These things take time and there will be a lengthy period of transition.

The problem is...

It’s considered that Brexit could be used as an opportunity to deregulate laws which seek to protect employees, in particular, those which employers view as ‘overly sympathetic’ to employees or too expensive for an employer to maintain.

Simply put: after leaving the EU, these laws will no longer be required to be upheld to a specific benchmark - they could be amended.

In addition to sexual harassment laws, pregnancy, maternity, and part-time worker protections are also likely to be the first in the firing line for amendment.

It is, however, important to stress that on the flipside, it’s possible that these laws could actually be bolstered by Brexit. Though, you may want to bear in mind that many people who voted to leave the UK mentioned that overly sympathetic EU laws were one of the reasons why they wanted to leave – so who knows?

Other concerns

Henry VIII STILL has a say? -  Another concern that has been flagged is the possible implementation of ‘Henry VIII powers’, which would, in theory, give the government the power to amend or even pass secondary legislation without taking it to parliament for scrutiny. This point has, however, already been deemed incredibly undemocratic, but anything is possible nowadays, it seems.

Successive governments - Whilst the Conservative government under Theresa May pledged to uphold certain laws, there is no certainty that the government going forward under Boris Johnson will have the same viewpoint and could, therefore, change or revoke laws as they see fit. Again, hopefully unlikely, but possible.

Our advice

As with any legislation, you should be keeping an eye out for any potential changes in law and try to stay ahead of the curve. As for keeping your workplace a sexual harassment-free zone right now, make sure you have the correct policies in place (every member of staff should be able to access this easily and fully understand the policy) and provide staff with effective Sexual Harassment Training.

Sexual Harassment Awareness Training