The UK Government is supporting The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill to significantly expand employers’ liability for harassment in the workplace.
If it becomes law, the bill would mean employers could be liable for harassment of employees by third parties, such as customers and clients. Secondly, it would place a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment of employees.
If enacted as it is currently drafted, an employee who is harassed by a third party in the course of employment would be able to claim for this against their employer. This is a return to the law as it was in 2013 but goes a step further.
Under the 2013 rule employers needed to know about two previous incidents of harassment before they were liable. Whereas under this bill employers would be liable after only one incident, unless they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment taking place.
It's worth mentioning that this relates to harassment on any protected ground, not just sexual harassment.
Currently employers are liable for harassment (and discrimination) carried out by their employers in the course of their employment unless they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment taking place. This bill goes beyond this and would place a positive duty on all employers to prevent sexual harassment.
Based on how the bill is currently drafted this wouldn’t be a standalone right but would be enforced by the EHRC.
However, if a Tribunal found that an employee had been harassed and this duty had not been complied with it would also have the power to award up to 25% more compensation.
This bill comes in the wake of evidence which suggests that even five years after the #metoo campaign, such behaviour remains more widespread in many workplaces than might be expected.
Randstad’s 2022 Gender Equality in the Workplace report, which surveyed 6,000 working adults across the construction, education, healthcare and technology sectors, found that 72% of women had either encountered or witnessed inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues at work.
This 2019 government consultation found that 54% of respondents had themselves experienced sexual harassment at work.
Prevention of harassment is something we currently help our clients with, including providing anti-harassment training. Should you wish to discuss this further, please contact Natasha Adom.