Inaction to prevent harassment at work highlighted by Angela Rayner scandal

In the very place where legislation against discrimination was passed, sexualisation in the workplace rears its ugly and outdated head – yet again. 


The Angela Rayner scandal only serves to highlight the inaction of the government to implement and tackle policies regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.


Ms Rayner allegedly used her sexual wiles to distract a ‘poor, defenceless man,’ no doubt to make up for her own inadequacies in education and class. This is indeed a new low with Tory MP’s commenting that Ms Rayner tried to put Boris Johnson ‘off his stride, by crossing and uncrossing her legs.’ 


One MP even went so far as to say that Ms Rayner knows she cannot compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training. She does however have other skills that he lacks. 


The MP stated that Ms Rayner had said as much while enjoying drinks with other MPs on the terrace. A spokesperson for Ms Rayner commented that the allegation was ‘categorically untrue.’ 


Now, this debacle would be laughable if it were not so sad and concerning, regardless of gender.


What this issue reflects on is the ‘boys will be boys’ stereotype, with boys unable to control their natural instincts. It also focuses on the character expectations of the prime minister and simply reinforces the stereotype of sexual and objectification of women in the workplace.


With this stereotype in the workplace, in the media and simply walking down the street, it is infuriating to experience. Worse, it is dangerous.


Six years ago, when Nicola Thorp refused to wear heels she was sent home, highlighting the shocking instances of misogyny in the workplace, which many women have experienced – and still do today.


Comments made anonymously by various MPs about Ms Rayner still fit totally into the definition of harassment - unwanted conduct in a sexual manner which relates to a protected characteristic namely gender.


Harassment either has the purpose or the effect of violating the dignity of another person, creating a hostile environment which is also degrading, offensive and humiliating. 


Under the Equality Act conduct of this sort in the workplace is unlawful. However, there is a clause in the Equality Act which states that an employer is not liable for any sexual harassment carried out by a staff member if they have taken reasonable steps to prevent the individual from harassing others.


The government has pledged to change this clause and introduce a duty for employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, this will only be implemented ‘when parliamentary time allows.’


There is a great urgency for the importance of introducing such protections before an event has taken place.


Yet another of the key changes which the government has promised to address is the extension of the time limit for bringing sexual harassment claims. This currently stands at three months from the time of the incident. 


There is no clarity yet as to what the new time limit will be or indeed even how the duty of prevention will be implemented.


While businesses are constantly advised to tackle and prevent sexual harassment for all employees, there needs to be in place a well-thought-out and considered anti-harassment policy which is implemented and communicated to all staff members.


The new policy which the government plans to introduce should advocate bespoke training on the prevention and management of sexual harassment issues. Included in this training should be managers and supervisors.


The new policy needs to include procedures for victims to report harassment and the investigation procedure which should protect the victims and highlight the consequences of sexual harassment.


Since the front benches in parliament are now in the headlines for this type of conduct, is this not a good time for highlighting a clear cultural message? People do not want or need this type of behaviour in the workplace. 


Sexual harassment is not appreciated in any other avenue of life, whether this is walking down the street or at work. It is long overdue that the promise of change from the government is implemented.


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