New duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of employees
However, protection from third-party harassment provisions of the Equality Act 2010 will not be restored.
The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2013 (the Act) came into force on 26 October 2023, making amends to the Equality Act 2010 (EQA) to:
Introduce a new duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees, and
Give employment tribunals the power to uplift sexual harassment compensation by up to 25% where an employer is found to have breached the new duty.
The House of Lords voted to remove sections from the Act that would have made employers liable for sexual harassment of staff by third parties such as contractors, customers or clients in a similar fashion to protections that existed prior to 1 October 2013.
As summarised by a House of Commons Library Research Briefing, the original bill would have made employers liable for third party harassment of employees on the basis ofthe protected characteristics under the EQA (e.g. race, sex, disability) unless they took all reasonable steps to prevent it. This clause has been removed from the final version of the Act.
The bill would also have introduced a new legal duty on employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment of their employees. Instead, the Act includesa watered-down obligation on employers to take “reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment. As well as opening employers up to claims of failing to prevent sexual harassment, the Act gives employment tribunals the power to uplift by up to 25% the compensation awarded where an employer fails to reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in the EQA is where a person (A) harasses another (B) by engaging in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.
Whilst the Act therefore strengthens protections for employees against sexual harassment in the workplace from colleagues, it has not offered the level of protection originally envisioned in the Bill.
It is already common for employers to highlight what sexual harassment is, usually as part of an anti-bullying and harassment policy and by making sexual harassment a clear disciplinary matter. However, the effect of the Act is that employers will need to take more proactive steps to demonstrate that they have addressed sexual harassment with their workforce through establishing, implementing and reviewing policy, and taking reasonable steps to provide training, signposting and support.
How we can help
Wrigleys has extensive experience and expertise in helping employers create a staff policy framework that not only ensures employers deal with issues that they are required to by law, but that also fits their work environment and ethos.
If you require new policies and procedures, or it has been some time since they were last reviewed, we would love to hear from you and work with you to create the staff policies you need to help your organisation develop the work environment you feel will deliver for you and your clients, customers or beneficiaries.
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.