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IKEA UK signs legal agreement with equality watchdog to protect staff from sexual harassment

Published: 23 March 2023

IKEA UK has entered into a legal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), to improve its policies and practices in relation to sexual harassment. 

The intervention by Britain’s equality regulator follows a complaint about sexual harassment and assault from a former IKEA employee and relates how the allegations were handled by IKEA UK.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission helps employers to prevent discrimination and harassment and can use its enforcement powers when alleged incidents are reported.

Under the terms of the legally binding agreement, IKEA UK has committed to reviewing the way it deals with sexual harassment and meeting its responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. IKEA UK will:

  • communicate a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment to all staff.
  • work with a specialist external law partner to support the organisation in reviewing its policies and processes relating to sexual harassment, and to improve its responses to complaints.
  • provide training on the enhanced policies and processes, harassment and sexual harassment to Human Resources staff and all line managers.

Baroness Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: 

“No matter how big or small, every employer is responsible for protecting its workforce and sexual harassment should not be tolerated.

“As Britain’s equality regulator we help employers to understand the law and we take action to prevent it from being breached. In signing this agreement, IKEA UK has taken an important step towards ensuring their staff are better protected from harassment.”

The EHRC first engaged IKEA UK in February 2022, after being made aware of an allegation of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace and reports that these allegations were not appropriately handled by management at one of their UK stores.

IKEA UK’s agreement with the EHRC is likely to last until August 2025. The EHRC will monitor IKEA’s compliance with the agreement, to ensure all actions are completed within the agreed timescales, and can use its legal powers as a regulator to enforce the action plan. 

Baroness Falkner continued: 

“Employers should not assume that a low level of reporting means there is no problem with sexual harassment in the workplace, or that policies and procedures alone are enough to stop harassment from happening.

“Sexual harassment needs to be dealt with very seriously. The training and development work already completed at the store where the complaint emerged is a welcome sign of IKEA’s commitment to better practice.”

The EHRC encourages every employer to act to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. They can draw on EHRC guidance, which includes a legal explanation and practical examples of how to prevent and respond effectively to harassment.

Notes to editors

  • For a statement from IKEA UK on the Section 23 agreement contact IKEA UK Press Office: [email protected] or 0845 225 7126.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the regulator of the Equality Act in England, Scotland and Wales. It has been awarded ‘A status’ as a National Human Rights Institution by the United Nations.
  • Our job is to make Britain fairer. We do this by safeguarding and enforcing the laws that protect people’s rights to fairness, dignity and respect.
  • Under the Equality Act, employers are legally responsible if an employee is sexually harassed at work by another employee and the employer has not taken all reasonable steps to prevent it from happening.
  • The EHRC and IKEA UK have agreed to a Section 23 agreement under the Equality Act 2006. This commits an organisation to not breaching equality law and generally includes an action plan to address the issues which led to the suspected unlawful conduct.
  • Improvements completed since at the IKEA store the complaint originated from includes training in investigations and grievance handling for the People and Culture team and line managers, as well as training on IKEA UK’s code of conduct for all employees.