The Worker Protection (Amendment to Equality Act 2010) Bill aims to strengthen protection against harassment in the workplace. It is drafted to amend the existing Equality Act 2020, following a Government consultation, and aims to tackle concerns emerging in recent years regarding prevalent complaints of harassment in the workplace. Amendments are being considered with the Bill progressing through the House of Lords’ third reading on 12 September.
New duty on employers regarding workplace harassment
Of particular interest is a provision which introduces a positive duty for employers to take “reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment. This is less onerous than its original iteration, which would have required employers to take “all reasonable steps”.
Should employers fail to take reasonable steps to protect employees from sexual harassment, they may face a compensation uplift of up to 25% in the employment tribunal.
Employers are therefore encouraged to address sexual harassment effectively, particularly considering there is no cap on compensation awards in discrimination claims, so employers falling foul of the new law could face hefty financial consequences.
Having progressed through the scrutiny process, the Bill is expected to receive “Royal Assent”, thus becoming law, in the next year.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has previously indicated that it would produce a Statutory Code of Practice for employers on harassment which will provide guidance and examples for employers.
Employers may also be aware of the Bullying and Respect at Work Bill, which has recently been presented to Parliament for consideration. It has not yet received Government backing, and may not proceed due to limits on Parliamentary time.
Tips for employers
Employers should now be thinking about their harassment safeguards, particularly in bearing in mind the new “reasonable steps” defence. This could include addressing:
- Reviewing internal policies – ensure are clear on the employees’ expectations, and the consequences of untoward behaviours. Relevant policies are those addressing bullying, harassment, equal opportunities, grievances and disciplinaries.
- Training – consider whether equality and diversity training (or refresher training) may be necessary. Employees at management level may benefit from training that focuses on ensuring that harassment complaints are dealt with appropriately and with the requisite degree of sensitivity.
- Reporting – appointing a workplace mental health champion, or putting in place an employee assistance helpline, ensures employees have a safe environment in which to raise concerns.
- Support – consider the support offered to affected employees.
Effectively dealing with complaints of harassment and keeping safeguards in place will promote a positive and supportive workplace.
If you would like more information or advice on employment matters and how the Employment team can help.