Charities urged to give views on extending sexual harassment protection to volunteers

Written by Joe Lepper

Charities are being urged to respond to a government consultation to improve laws to combat sexual harassment in the workplace and offer better legal protection to volunteers.

The NCVO has issued the plea as the changes will particularly affect charities through a key measure to extend protection from harassment to volunteers.

The Government Equalities Office Consultation on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace closes on October 2 and looks at proposals to strengthen legal protections under the Equality Act (2010).

Under the existing legislation protection is explicitly linked to paid workers and does not cover volunteers and unpaid interns, who are legally considered volunteers.

Being considered is ensuring the law also covers volunteers.

However, the mooted plans only involve offering better protection to volunteers in larger organisations, warns the NCVO.

“This could devalue volunteers in smaller charities or those giving time in informal ways,” said NCVO volunteering development manager Shaun Delaney.

In urging charities to give their views in the consultation Delaney said: “This consultation provides the opportunity to have a serious conversation about how we strengthen protections against sexual harassment, focusing on what changes, legal and otherwise, might help.”

He added that giving employees and volunteers the same protection could have a knock on affect surrounding other employment law, such as allowing volunteers access to employment tribunals.

“Volunteers should certainly receive the same level and quality of protection as paid staff,” added Delaney.

“However, bringing them into the scope of this law is potentially a huge shift for the organisations that involve more than 20 million volunteers in their work in the UK.

“It also raises questions about the line between the fundamental voluntary nature of volunteering and employment law. For example, to enforce this proposal, would volunteers need to have access to employment tribunals? This would be a major step for the tens of thousands of organisations that involve volunteers and are often entirely volunteer led themselves.”

The consultation was launched during the summer and in response to concerns raised by women through the #metoo movement to combat sexual harassment.

It also proposes placing a greater duty of care on organisations, including charities, to take proactive steps to protect staff from harassment, so that they take action before unlawful conduct has taken place. Staff and volunteers should also be protected from harassment by third parties too, says the consultation.

“Even though these laws are in place, recent reports, including those of the #metoo movement, have shown that there is still a real, worrying problem with sexual harassment,” states the government consultation.

“We want everybody to feel safe at work so they can succeed and thrive; so we are looking at whether the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace are operating effectively.”

During the summer the charity sector was warned by the Institute of Fundraising to get its “house in order” regarding sexual harassment.

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