New workplace harassment legislation could cost charities millions, say experts

Volunteers may be able to claim against an employer for sexual harassment under proposed new workplace legislation laws, it has been revealed.

Launching a major inquiry earlier this year, the Government found that some 40 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men have experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace.

This can range from unwelcome jokes to comments of a sexual nature to more serious sexual assault.

As a result of the investigation, the Government is now looking to extend the scope of current legislation to include volunteers and interns, as well as employees.

Its latest consultation looks at a range of issues with current laws and how they can be improved upon to better deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.

As well as extending legislation to unpaid workers, the document also looks at what more can be done to prevent harassment from happening and whether employers need to be made “explicitly” responsible for protecting their staff from harassment by third parties (such as customers and clients).

The consultation will also consider whether people are being “denied access to justice” because of the three-month time limit for bringing an equality claim to an Employment Tribunal.

Commenting on the proposals, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) said the move to include volunteers and interns could have major ramifications for the charity sector.

“Volunteers should certainly receive the same level and quality of protection as paid staff,” said Shaun Delaney, volunteering development manager at the NCVO.

“However, bringing them into the scope of this law is potentially a huge shift for the organisations that involve more than 20 million volunteers in their work in the UK.”

This, she suggests, could cost the sector millions of pounds in costly employment tribunal action.

The full consultation document can be found here.

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