10 Sep 2019

A potential change in law affecting charities, volunteers and interns

The UK Government Equalities Office has launched a consultation to help ensure the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace are working effectively.  It proposes that the laws are extended to protect volunteers and interns.

In brief, the change calls for,

-       Employers to play an increased role in prevention, changing the focus from employer liability after the incident to a proactive duty before any unlawful conduct takes place.

-       Extension of the protections of the Equality Act (not just for sexual harassment but all the protections in Part 5 of The Equality Act to volunteers (and interns)

-       Extension of the time limits to take a harassment, discrimination or victimisation claim to an employment tribunal.

Volunteers and interns
The specific consultation questions asked regarding volunteers and interns are as follows;

  • Do you agree that sexual harassment should be treated the same as other unlawful behaviours under the Equality Act, when considering protections for volunteers and interns?
  • Do you know of any interns that do not meet the statutory criteria for workplace protections of the Equalities Act?
  • Would you foresee any negative consequences to expanding the Equalities Act's workplace protections to cover all volunteers e.g for charity employers, volunteer-led organisations, or businesses?
  • If the Equality Act's workplace protections are expanded to cover volunteers, should all volunteers be included?

It is noted that equality law is separate to wider employment law, and any extension of workplace Equality Act protection to volunteers would have no impact on volunteers' wider rights under employment law.

The consultation welcomes views on how best to balance the need to appropriately protect volunteers and maintain a thriving voluntary sector

The full consultation and documentation can be found here - https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace

Taking part in the consultation
The consultation is in two parts
1. A set of online questions that are quick and easy for individuals to respond to (https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/Workplacesexualharassment/), and

2. A more technical document that invites views of the details of the law, such as the specific questions listed above.

WCVA will be responding to the consultation using the technical document and is keen to hear your views to present a response from the third sector in Wales. Please submit responses to us by 23rd September.

If you wish to submit your own responses, the deadline is the 2nd October 2019.

In the meantime
If you would like to take some time to reflect on whether your organisation is currently doing its best to support its employees and volunteers, we have the following resources available that might help you

Equality and Diversity in Volunteering Information Sheet- http://www.wcva-ids.org.uk/wcva/1048

Employing and Managing People - Equal Opportunities: http://www.wcva-ids.org.uk/wcva/1177