Changes to the proposed Worker Protection Bill
Changes to the proposed Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill - Removal of liability for third-party harassment
In an article we published earlier this year, we provided a legal update in relation to the Government’s support of a Private Members’ Bill - the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill. This Bill proposed the creation of:
- employer's liability for third-party harassment (such as a customer, client, supplier or contractor) which meant an employee could therefore be harassed by simply overhearing an offensive conversation by customers); and
- a statutory duty on employers to take ALL reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees such as training for managers and staff, as well as having robust procedures for responding to complaints.
Following this update, amendments to this Bill have now been agreed by the House of Lords following a debate on 14 July 2023 which look likely to be accepted by the government. These amendments include a removal of the employer liability for third-party harassment and a reduction to the duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment.
It is proposed that the duty on employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment is reduced to a duty for employers to simply “take reasonable steps”. Although still a proactive duty, this is a lower threshold for employers to meet. It seems that the previous suggestion of an uplift to compensation following a successful claim for sexual harassment of up to 25% where an employer has failed in its duty to take reasonable steps is being retained.
As stated above, the third-party harassment provisions have been removed from the Bill, meaning that the eagerly anticipated changes to this area of law will not be introduced. This will be a disappointment to many who believed this was an important issue which needed to be addressed by legislation. However, some employers are likely to welcome this change, with opposition to the implementation of these provisions highlighting the difficulty of employers in industries such as hospitality complying with the obligations in practice and the limits it may have placed on free speech.
Despite these proposed changes to the incoming Bill (implementation date not yet known), employers should not forget their obligations under current legislation. Although there is not currently a pre-emptive obligation on employers to prevent harassment (and this is now not set to be introduced), an employer can seek to defend a claim for harassment under the Equality Act 2010 if it can show it took all reasonably practicable steps to prevent the harassment from occurring. This typically involves employers having robust policies and procedures in place and ensuring that such policies and procedures are communicated to its workforce. This should also involve regular training and an ‘open-door’ approach for staff reporting such concerns.
This update demonstrates the ever changing landscape of employment law. The Employment Team at Rollits can provide tailored advice on all aspects of employment and we will continue to provide legal articles to keep you up to date of changes as they happen!