New Law on Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

By Rachel Davis

Principal Associate

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 comes into force in October 2024 and places more responsibility on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

The new law introduces a duty on employers to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment of a sexual nature occurring in the workplace. 

It also gives Employment Tribunals the power to uplift the compensation awarded in successful claims of sexual harassment by up to 25% where an employer is found to have breached the duty to prevent sexual harassment.

The current law provides that, if sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, the employer has a defence if it can show that it took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent it.  This meant it was advisable to take such steps, but there was no actual requirement to do so.  The new law goes further by placing a separate legal obligation on all employers to take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment happening in the first place.

The EHRC has indicated that it will provide guidance on what ‘reasonable steps’ will be but, essentially, employers need to be much more proactive in preventing sexual harassment of their employees. 

Although the law does not change until October 2024, employers should act now to ensure they are well placed to show they are taking reasonable steps, as follows:

  • Implement, update, circulate and monitor policies. It will not be sufficient to just have a policy in place.  Employers will need to show that all employees are aware of and have read the policies, understand what they should do if facing harassment, where it can be reported and how it will be investigated and dealt with.
  • Train all staff. Training should be effective and up-to-date and ensure that all staff understand what behaviours will constitute sexual harassment and how they can prevent and deal with it in the workplace. A tick-box exercise or out-of-date training is unlikely to be seen as a reasonable step to prevent harassment.
  • Carry out risk assessments specifically in relation to sexual harassment to identify risk factors and what action can be taken.
  • Encourage a ‘speak up’ culture.  Staff should know how to raise concerns in a safe environment and be assured they will not suffer detriment for doing so.

If you require advice and assistance in preparing for the new law,  or would like to discuss how we can support you with training your managers and staff, please contact our Employment Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form for more information.