The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has penned a letter to the chairs of FTSE 100 companies and other leading employers, asking them to provide evidence of the safeguards they have in place to prevent sexual harassment.
“We need to take responsibility to ensure that no woman will ever be intimidated from reporting, be challenged by the difficulty of doing so or frightened of the implications for her career,” said EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath.
“Sexual harassment is rife across all of our industries. We accept it far too easily.”
Publication of the letter follows sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and Westminster, along with the #MeToo campaign on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
In addition to evidence of safeguards, it requested that companies’ provide the measures they are taking to ensure employees can report harassment without fear of retribution, and their plans to prevent harassment in the future.
Should systemic failures in these areas be discovered, the Commission stated that it would consider using its enforcement powers, which could include conducting investigations into companies suspected of not taking reasonable steps to protect its employees.
“No one should have to experience the humiliation and intimidation of sexual harassment. We all have a responsibility to take action to prevent and challenge these behaviours,” said Fawcett Society head of policy and insight Jemima Olchawski.
“Employers must ensure they are doing all they can to protect the women who work for them and to create a positive working culture. As a society we’ve turned a blind eye for too long, enough is enough and now is the time to act.”
The commission have given companies until 19 January next year to respond to the letter, and have also produced legal guidance that helps businesses come to an understanding on the issue.
In October, a poll commissioned by BBC Radio 5 Live found that more than half of women (53%) had experienced a form of sexual harassment at work or a place of study, with nearly two thirds (63%) not reporting it.