New legislation is being introduced to tackle harassment in the workplace and will put even more responsibility on organisations to protect employees against harassment, including sexual harassment.

Employers are being urged to prepare in advance, given the proposed legislation is expected to become law in the near future.

Harassment in the workplace is already prohibited under the Equality Act 2010, and once the new law is passed, the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill 2022-23 will extend the range of safeguards for employees.

One safeguarding factor is protection against third-party harassment during the course of employment (for example, by customers or clients). This means that an employer may be liable if they fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent the third party from doing so.

The Bill also tackles sexual harassment suffered by employees during their employment. The legislation will include a new duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent such harassment.

While the Bill is still going through parliament, employers should be gearing up in readiness and ensuring they have the right processes in place. The benchmark is likely to be high to encourage employers to tackle workplace discrimination proactively. While the term ‘all reasonable steps’ is not actually defined by statute, we know from existing case law what is expected of an employer.

Essentially, any employment tribunal will look for robust policies and procedures and evidence of the steps taken to actively prevent harassment. If your policies are lacking (or out of date) then you really must review them and get expert advice. It would be an expensive mistake to ignore what you have to do.

There is no hiding from the fact that this all adds up to a challenging new set of legislation for employers because the harassment by third parties can relate to someone over whom the employer has no direct control; with liability set to apply whether or not the employer is aware of the actions of the third party.

Be aware that penalties may be higher for any employer found to have breached their duty for any sexual harassment claim. An uplift of up to 25% of the compensation award is being proposed to be added on.

The potential for damaging adverse publicity is also huge in this area because they are exactly the type of cases the press love to latch onto.

Please get in touch with us if your business needs help and guidance to prepare for the proposed Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill. Or perhaps it’s just time for an overdue wider policy review/audit?

We can advise on how to prepare best based on your company’s current circumstances and resources.