Highways England signs legally binding agreement to protect staff from sexual harassment

Case name: Highways England s23 agreement

Highways England has signed a legally binding agreement with us after a staff member was awarded £74,000 in compensation for sexual harassment and unfair dismissal.

Background

An ex-employee of Highways England was sexually harassed by her boss for months before leaving the organisation. An employment tribunal found in favour of the ex-employee and also ruled she had been constructively dismissed. The staff member was awarded £74,000 in compensation.

Why we were involved

Everyone deserves to feel respected and safe at work and we are continuously concerned that despite the Equality Act 2010 being clear that discrimination is unlawful, it’s clear there is still a long way to go before we can say sexual harassment is a thing of the past.

What we did

We wrote to Highways England in March 2020 highlighting our enforcement powers, which include the power to investigate an organisation, to ensure they had taken the necessary steps to prevent sexual harrassment occurring in the future.

What happened

Highways England willingly signed the legal document, known as a section 23 agreement under the Equality Act 2006, to protect its 5,000 employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

Highways England has agreed to implement a number of key measures to address sexual harassment, including:

  • implementing a new Respect at Work Policy;
  • updating its E-learning module on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, which will be mandatory for all employees;
  • refreshing Recruitment and Onboarding materials to reflect best practice;
  • appointing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champions;
  • launching a new Redeployment Policy;
  • practical training in conducting discipline and grievance investigations and hearings for people managers;
  • revising their case escalation process;
  • legal training for leaders & people managers;
  • completing risk assessments in relation to sexual harassment and putting mitigations in place to manage identified risks.

Who will benefit and how

As an employer responsible for 5,000 people, Highways England has committed to providing crucial protection for staff, while sending a clear message to other organisations that sexual harassment has no place in their business or in our society.

The steps adopted by Highways England include measures set out in our technical guidance for employers, which was produced in January 2020, offering a legal explanation and practical examples of how to tackle and respond effectively to harassment.

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