Rights of Women will today launch the only specialist free legal advice line for women in England and Wales experiencing sexual harassment at work. According to the TUC, as many as 1 in 2 of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.

The legal advice will be provided by Rights of Women legal staff and volunteer women employment lawyers through a dedicated telephone line. Women calling will be able to get specialist legal advice on what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment, how to bring a grievance against their employer, how to make a claim in the Employment Tribunal, settlement agreements and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and other related legal problems faced by women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.

The advice line is funded by the TIME’S UP UK Justice and Equality Fund, managed by Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls, kickstarted by donations from British actor and activist Emma Watson and others.

The money for this fund was donated by the public after the scale of the problem of sexual harassment was revealed by the #MeToo movement, which saw millions of women across the globe share their stories of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

Actor, activist and TIME’S UP UK catalyst Emma Watson says:

I’m honestly delighted that the funds raised by the public through the Justice and Equality Fund, which TIME’S UP UK catalysed in collaboration with women’s organisations, is powering the only free, specialist legal advice line for women in England and Wales experiencing sexual harassment at work*.

However, it’s completely staggering to think that this is the only service of its type given that research has found that as many as one in two women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. It finally feels like people are realising the scale of the problem, and I’m certainly hopeful that with global standards such as the recent International Labour Organization treaty on harassment at work, we’ll start to see a new climate of prevention and accountability on this issue domestically.

Understanding what your rights are, how you can assert them, and the choices you have if you’ve experienced harassment, is such a vital part of creating safe workplaces for everyone, and this advice line is such a huge development in ensuring that all women are supported, wherever we work.

* TUC’s 2016 survey ‘Still just a bit of banter?

Deeba Syed, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women says:

The evidence shows that sexual harassment in the workplace is at epidemic levels. While sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of violence against women, it has remained a hidden issue with many women believing it was an inevitable part of their jobs or that it would jeopardise their careers to assert their legal rights.   

For too long there has been a gap in available legal advice in this area for those who need it most. Many women still do not have access to the right help and support they need to hold their employer and harasser to account. Our advice line will help plug that gap.

This advice line’s purpose is to empower women to exercise their legal rights in the workplace. By advising women about their legal options and increasing their understanding of equalities and discrimination law, we will be able to help them make informed choices about next steps including how to navigate the legal system with confidence.

We know that complaints of sexual harassment at work are still frequently responded to in a gendered manner that is negative, undermining or can lead to victimisation. That is why Rights of Women will also work towards dismantling the underlying structural problems that puts the burden on victims and makes it difficult for women to come forward through its policy work.

Dame Heather Rabbatts, Chair, TIME’S UP UK says: 

I am delighted that the independent selection panel for the TIME’S UP UK Justice and Equality Fund chose to fund Rights of Women’s free, specialist legal advice line. Many forms of sexual harassment are still prevalent across the UK workforce and women urgently need legal advice and information to understand and use their legal rights and remedies to find safety, justice and equality.

The government is consulting on the introduction of a duty to ensure employers are made legally responsible for following up sexual harassment reporting. TIME’S UP believes that this will ensure that workplace protections are in place and are enforceable.  Having begun my career as a volunteer at Rights of Women many years ago I know how valuable this service is for women seeking advice at such a vulnerable time.

Seyi Newell, Project Director, Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls, said:

The funding supporting this vital service was born of a desire to stamp out the culture of abuse and impunity around sexual harassment and abuse that has existed in our workplaces and communities for far too long.

By ensuring women have access to the right advice and support, we can create an empowered workforce where women have the confidence to call it out and employers recognise it and take action, so that together we make work and social spaces better for all of us.