Workplace sexual harassment
Published: November 30 2023
The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill has received Royal Assent, and contains changes to the law on an employer’s obligations to protect employees from sexual harassment. Although the amendments have been watered down from the original proposals, there is still an important new duty that employer’s need to be aware of.
Employers will be required to take “reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment of their employees in the course of their employment. This applies to unwanted conduct of a “sexual nature” as defined in the Equality Act 2010.
It had originally been proposed that employers would be required to take ‘all reasonable steps’ but the word ‘all’ has been removed with the House of Lords expressing concerns that the original duty was too onerous.
This new duty will apply to sexual harassment, and will not apply to harassment based on other protected characteristics (including age, race, sex and disability).
The proposed re-introduction against harassment of employees by third parties has not been taken forward.
There is no guidance in the law as to what is meant by “reasonable steps”, although it is likely that Employment Tribunals will interpret this in line with an employer’s existing defence to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment of any kind.
The new law will come into effect in October 2024. Taking steps now, such as updating harassment policies, carrying out updated training and carrying out risk assessments is recommended to ensure that employers are ready to comply with this new duty.
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