Legal Stamping out harassment in the screen and theatre industries

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The British Film Institute has published new guidance on tackling the problem, but how effective is it likely to be? Hannah Netherton reports

Workplace harassment is front and centre on many employers’ agendas. Widely publicised allegations over recent months – and a shift in the public mood on the systemic issues that have been highlighted – have now also been given global prominence through social media campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp.

While the ground may be shifting more slowly across the UK in various traditional business sectors, nowhere is the issue of workplace harassment more prevalent than in the screen and theatre industries. Large casual and freelance workforces, coupled with long hours, stressful deadlines, shifting teams and variable workplaces across studios and locations have led to unwelcome outcomes, as well as uncertainty on the part of some organisations on what their obligations are to individuals and how to respond.

Hot off the heels of anti-sexual harassment guidelines published in January 2018 by the Producers Guild of America, the British Film Institute (BFI) – in conjunction with BAFTA – has produced a short set of principles and accompanying guidance on tackling harassment and bullying in the screen industries. These will affect how businesses in this sector prevent and respond to concerns and complaints of bullying and harassment.

The principles apply to all employers, employees, officers, workers, agency workers, trainees, volunteers, trustees and freelancers, and cover the following:

  • Everyone is responsible for creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace that is positive and supportive.
  • Recognition that harassment may be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
  • Employers accept their responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
  • No tolerance for bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, and processes will be put in place for reporting and investigation of these serious issues.
  • Recognition that bullying and harassment can have significant impact on productivity and the health and wellbeing of people affected, and that work needs to be done to eradicate it. Adequate protections will be put in place and appropriate actions will be taken against those found to have bullied or harassed.
  • Recognition of the value of inclusivity and difference, learning from others and considering people without prejudice or favour. Relationships will be built on mutual respect and feedback given constructively.
  • Recognition that reporting bullying and harassment can be intimidating. Confidentiality will be respected where possible and the process of reporting should be clear and straightforward. Investigations will be undertaken objectively and individuals who come forward will not suffer reprisal or victimisation.
  • Respect for each other’s dignity, regardless of seniority of role in an organisation.

While in many respects the above seem common sense, the BFI and BAFTA are seeking to set the tone of behaviour within this industry and prevent behaviour that causes harm or detriment to individuals and, where prevention has not been possible, limit organisations’ exposure to legal action.

What does it mean for my business?

It will become a condition of receipt of BFI funding or association with the BFI and certain named organisations (BAFTA, BBC Films, Film4, Motion Picture Association, UK Screen Alliance and many others) that the funded business signs up to the principles and adopts a zero-tolerance approach to breaches of them. The principles will become embedded in the BFI’s Diversity Standards.

In addition, all contracts should include provisions covering the following:

  • The individual shall comply with the principles (as amended from time to time).
  • Breaches of the principles may lead to disciplinary action and/or termination of the contract.
  • Individuals should familiarise themselves with the principles and the guidance and act in accordance with the information and advice.

The guidance that accompanies these principles sets out practical advice for employers as well as individuals who may experience or witness inappropriate conduct.

It includes a helpful section on the duties and responsibilities of managers, heads of departments and team leaders, which sets out expectations for facilitating a positive workplace and responding to concerns appropriately.

An additional set of ‘top tips’ includes knowledge of individuals’ personal responsibilities, ensuring policies are written and up to date, ensuring a clear process and clear accountability for investigating complaints, and promoting the principles and processes.

It also cautions against remaining a bystander where inappropriate conduct is witnessed but no action taken. Finally, it recommends training to gain confidence in challenging and tackling inappropriate behaviour.

Hannah Netherton is a senior associate at CMS

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