Prove you’re taking steps to end sexual harassment at work or risk legal action, magic circle firms told

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By Thomas Connelly on

Warning comes in wake of Hollywood and Westminster scandals

Magic circle firms are among a raft of top businesses warned they risk facing legal action if they fail to appropriately deal with sexual harassment.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has fired off a letter to Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughter and May asking them to “supply evidence” of what safeguards they have in place to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Specifically, the EHRC wants to know what steps the magic circle fivesome have taken to ensure instances of sexual harassment can be reported without fear of retribution, and how they plan to tackle harassment in the future. Where evidence of systemic failing is found, the EHRC said it would “consider exercising [its] statutory enforcement powers”.

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Reminding law firm bosses that they are “ultimately accountable for the safety and dignity” of their staff, the letter continues:

“As an employer your organisation is legally liable for sexual harassment suffered by your employees in the workplace, and you have a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to prevent it.”

The warning was sent out yesterday to law firms and other organisations including FTSE 100 companies, universities, charities and media outlets. It comes amid a number of high-profile sexual harassment claims from from both sides of the Atlantic. The letter states:

“As you will have seen, recent high-profile testimonies demonstrate pervasive sexual harassment in contexts as diverse as Hollywood and Westminster, and the lack of redress for those women and men who experience it.”

EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath claims that “sexual harassment is rife across all of our industries” and that “accountability lies with leadership”. She continues:

“It is not enough to report a nil return. 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.”

Firms have until 19 January 2018 to respond to the letter.

The watchdog’s warning comes less than a month after the Bar Council wrote to all heads of chambers asking them to review their policies on sexual harassment and equality. The letter — penned by the chair of the bar, Andrew Langdon QC — urged them to make their tenants aware of the profession’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment.

Read the EHRC’s letter in full below:

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