Worker Protection Act and potential implications for the Christmas party!
This year we have published a number of legal updates in relation to the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill and its progression towards becoming binding law.
The Bill finally received Royal Assent on 26 October 2023 and is now known as The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023. This Act will come into force on 26 October 2024 and will introduce a new duty on employers to take reasonable steps (a reduction from the previously proposed “all steps”) to prevent sexual harassment of their employees in the workplace. It also gives Employment Tribunals the power to increase compensation awarded to claimants of sexual harassment by up to 25% where an employer is found to have breached this duty.
Notwithstanding the fact that the new Act does not come into force until 2024, it is recommended that employers take appropriate steps now to prepare for this new legislation. Sexual harassment in the workplace is something employers should be taking seriously and steps should already be being taken by employers to prevent it from occurring. We anticipate that a Tribunal would expect to see a Sexual Harassment Policy in place as a minimum ‘reasonable step’ taken by employers.
This duty is particularly relevant in the lead up to Christmas and the related events and parties which occur during the festive period. It is the case that employers will be vicariously liable for acts of their employees undertaken in the course of their employment and this can extend to work-related events such as Christmas parties and Christmas meals. Therefore, even if acts of sexual harassment occur outside the workplace, employers may find themselves facing potential liability.
Steps which can be taken by employers to reduce the risk of sexual harassment occurring at work-related events such as Christmas parties include limiting alcohol (e.g. to two free drinks per person) and communicating what is deemed acceptable conduct in advance of any events.
Any issues that arise following any work organised Christmas parties or events should be dealt with in the usual way, under the employer’s disciplinary procedure and employees should be reminded in advance of any event that the usual grievance and disciplinary procedures remain applicable. This being said, employers will want to strike a balance in any communications to ensure that the Christmas spirit is not fully extinguished and employees still look forward to attending the events.
If you have any queries regarding the introduction of the new duty introduced by the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023, or regarding potential (or actual) incidents occurring in the workplace or at work related events, or if you would like assistance in respect of reasonable steps that you can take to prevent sexual harassment (including a relevant policy), please contact our Employment Team who would be happy to assist.