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

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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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19 Comments

Popcorn at the ready

Anonymous

He is busy finalising a Settlement Agreement right now.

Anonymous

Tom’s efforts to impress KK.

Just Anonymous

“EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath claims that “sexual harassment is rife across all of our industries”…”

Well. This isn’t an ideological witch-hunt at all…

Anonymous

Damn those electric sex-pants!!!

Legion

They suit you Douglas Reynholm.

DWF Trainee

It’s been a while for me, and since no-one is impressed by the law firm I work at I never get dates.

Maybe I’ll try to get a job at Jones Day.

Frustrated Writer

Early morning in the Legal Cheek office. A place of silence. A time of rest and reflection.

Alex awoke suddenly from his sleep on the office sofa, unexpectedly early. He pondered the chaos around him. Why had he woken up so early? Was there a jolt in his sub-conscious that had reprimanded him for wasting his life?

Was it for this that he had spent years of his life studying hard, whilst his mates got jobs as a mechanic or software programmer? What was he to do?

He stared at the cheap Ikea desk where Tom and Katie sat. The young pair would be here soon, filling the place with their excited banter. They were too young to realise that they had been condemned to a lifetime of poverty and tedium.

Perhaps a bacon sandwich at Gino’s would sort himself out. Alex levered himself off the sofa, and swung his legs to the floor.

Ouch. He had stood on something. It felt like standing on a Lego brick in the middle of the night. What was that? He looked curiously at what he had just trod on.

A gold Faberge egg lay askew next to the sofa. He stared at it. His mind raced back over the last night. Alex picked it up and looked at the egg closely – he was sure he had never seen it before.

Then his mobile phone began to ring.

Anonymous

This is fake.

Frustrated Writer

Good effort, but no narrative arch. 7/10

Frustrated Writer

This is not me

Anonymous

Don’t worry FR, we can tell when it is you.

Anonymous

To refer to, “contexts as diverse as Hollywood and Westminster” is to overlook the maxim that politics is just show business for ugly people. The threat to use their statutory powers if anyone refuses to cooperate with this body, irrespective of any actual proof of wrongdoing, is the threat of a bully.

Anonymous

I am a bit of a maverick, but I would never inappropriately touch a woman (or man) at work.

Anonymous

Pity she didn’t extend this directive to Chambers ….

Anonymous

Plig

Calm down dear

“sexual harassment is rife across all of our industries”

Does Rebecca have evidence to substantiate such a claim.

Or is she just another paranoid delusional feminazi who hasn’t taken their medication today.

Anon

As a male victim of sexual harassment, I welcome attempts to reduce abuse.

However, the EHRC’s letter is framed in such a way as to reinforce gender stereotypes. It doesn’t address at all they types of sexual harassment typically suffered by males and could incentivise employers to punish accused parties without proper investigation, itself a form of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment needs to be tackled in an even-handed way.

Anonymous

Also male victim of sexual harassment. Most doubt it exists but those who have had to deal with it knows it does. Remember the Demi Moore, Michael Douglas movie? It can be pretty harrowing and extreme when it does happen.

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