Highways England Signs Legally Binding Agreement To Protect Staff From Sexual Harassment

Sunday, November 8, 2020

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

The agency signed the legal document, known as a section 23 agreement under the Equality Act 2006, to improve protections from sexual harassment in the workplace for its 5,000 employees.

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.

The agreement follows an employment tribunal which found in favour of an ex-employee of Highways England, who was sexually harassed by her boss for months before leaving the organisation.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“Everyone deserves to feel respected and safe at work.  Yet a decade since the Equality Act 2010, and 45 years since the Sexual Discrimination Act first protected women from discrimination at work, it’s clear there is still a long way to go before we can say sexual harassment is a thing of the past.

“Highways England is an employer responsible for 5,000 people.  They have taken an important step in committing to providing crucial protection for staff.  They’ve also sent a clear message to other organisations that sexual harassment has no place in their business or in our society.”

The EHRC wrote to Highways England in March of this year highlighting its 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.

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

A spokesperson from Highways England said:

“Highways England is committed to providing an inclusive and safe workplace, in which individuals are valued and respected.

“As a result of this case we are improving our policies and procedures in this area, to help prevent further such occurrences and we are grateful to the EHRC for their expert support.”