135.A recurrent theme of this inquiry has been a lack of awareness about the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace, the number of cases being taken forward through internal grievance procedures and the effectiveness of different means of resolution. Low reporting levels and the use of non-disclosure agreements contribute to the difficulty in getting a clear picture of the situation. Without robust data about prevalence and outcomes, the Government cannot gauge whether policy interventions, legal changes and enforcement processes are effective in making workplaces safer, and cannot demonstrate that it is meeting its international obligations to tackle sexual harassment.
136.An obvious source of potential data is that on employment tribunal claims. Data is already collected on the type of claims going to tribunal and the outcome of those claims, but this data is not granular enough to give statistics on claims alleging harassment of a sexual nature. The EHRC has made its own estimate of the number and outcome of tribunal claims alleging sexual harassment in the past year, which provides a useful indicator. This required the Commission’s legal department to search for claims recorded under the relevant jurisdictional code of sex discrimination and perform a key word search for ‘harassment’. Such estimates are inevitably not as robust as tribunal-collected figures and are not generally available to the wider public. The Ministry of Justice has acknowledged that attempting to identify sexual harassment cases in tribunal records is at present complex and too susceptible to subjective interpretation to produce reliable figures. When we asked Justice Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP whether tribunals should have the capability to collect data on the number of claims involving allegations of sexual harassment, she agreed that they should and highlighted how data can inform policy decisions. She added:
We are in [HM Courts and Tribunals Service] so the collection of data is something that is my responsibility and we are looking at whether we can collect this sort of data.
137.As we have set out, the very low number of claims that were successful at a tribunal hearing suggest that the tribunal system is not currently an effective means of holding employers to account. Robust, regularly collected tribunal data on claims alleging harassment of a sexual nature would help to show how effective the tribunal system is as a means of resolving cases and holding employers to account. However, tribunal data can show only a small part of the picture. The wave of surveys undertaken in response to the #MeToo movement shows the value of this kind of evidence for painting a true picture of the scale of the problem. The Equality and Human Rights Commission agrees that large-scale, reliable data needs to be collected at regular intervals in order to assess progress and inform changes in policy and practice.
138.The Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins MP, told us that she recognised that the Government recognised the need for better data on sexual harassment, particularly from employers:
We recognise the need for more data on this and you have heard Minister Frazer talk about the collection of data in tribunals. I am very conscious that by the time it has reached a tribunal it is too late because by then behaviour has happened that has placed the victim of that behaviour in a very difficult, often distressing situation. I think we should be asking questions about this of business alongside all the questions we already ask business, most recently with the gender pay gap reporting. We should be asking businesses what they are doing and what they feel their response is to sexual harassment and I am open to the Committee’s recommendations as to how that might be best achieved.
140.The Government should collect data on the number of tribunal claims submitted involving allegations of harassment of a sexual nature and the outcome of such claims. As tribunal data alone tells only a small part of the story, the Government should commission large-scale surveys at least every three years to determine the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment in the workplace. The findings of each edition of the survey should be accompanied by an evaluation of measures taken in the preceding period to tackle sexual harassment, and an action plan responding to the findings.
196 UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, , 2017, paras 27, 28, 48; Council of Europe, , 2011, Article 11
197 Equality and Human Rights Commission ()
198 from Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, relating to time limits for pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims, 6 July 2018;
201 Equality and Human Rights Commission, , March 2018
Published: 25 July 2018