What do the Proposed New Harassment Laws mean for Employers?

By Rachel Davis

Principal Associate

Changes have been made to the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill which are expected to become law next year. 

The changes water down the new duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and remove the proposal to re-introduce employer liability for third-party harassment.

New duty on employers to take “reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment

The updated Bill renders employers liable for the harassment of employees and workers and creates a new positive duty on employers to take ‘reasonable steps’ instead of “all reasonable steps” (as previously proposed) to prevent harassment.   This means employers will be liable for the actions of their employees, even for one-off incidents of harassment in the workplace, unless they can show that they took “reasonable steps” to prevent the harassment from occurring.

As a result of this change, employers will find it easier to show that they have complied with the new positive duty, however, Employment Tribunals will have the power to increase compensation in successful harassment claims by up to 25% where the employer has failed to comply with this duty.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has indicated it will produce a Statutory Code of Practice for employers to provide guidance on how to comply with this duty.

In the meantime, we advise that employers review and update their approach to harassment by taking the following steps:

  • Train your managers to recognise and deal effectively with complaints of harassment
  • Put in place effective and up-to-date anti-harassment policies and procedures clearly demonstrating a zero-tolerance approach
  • Establish a confidential reporting system that allows employees to report incidents of harassment
  • Ensure support is in place for employees who report harassment

Employer liability for third party harassment removed

The Bill originally made provisions to re-introduce employer liability where a third party (such as a customer or client) harassed an employee in the course of their employment and the employer failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent that harassment.  However, it was recognised that the measures employers would need to take would be considerable, adding to the regulatory burden and cost of running a business, so the proposals to re-introduce this form of employer liability have been completely removed.  Although this may be a significant win for businesses, employers still risk being liable for harassment if they do not deal with complaints concerning harassment by third parties which put their employees at risk.

If you need further advice in order to prepare for the proposed new harassment laws, or need assistance in training your managers or putting policies in place, please contact our expert Employment Lawyers on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be very happy to assist.