25 April, 2023
In March 2023, the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill passed the second reading stage in the House of Lords which was the first opportunity for the House to debate the key principles and main purpose of the Bill. The Bill is due to be further scrutinised at the Committee Stage, but a date is yet to be confirmed.
This Bill's purpose is to amend the Equality Act 2010 to put a legal obligation on employers to protect employees from harassment by other colleagues and third parties, such as contractors and members of the public. In particular, employers will be required to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of employees.
If enacted, the legislation will place more onerous responsibilities on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent a third party harassing an employee, with a corresponding specific duty for sexual harassment.
An employer, at present, may be held to be vicariously liable for another employee's actions where that conduct may have been authorised or expected in terms of the nature of work, due to the proximity to work-related matters, if the incident was work related or if there was wrongdoing in failing a responsibility. Employers can take steps to prevent discrimination, harassment or victimisation in the workplace by making sure they have effective and up to date policies in place, providing regular training to staff, making it clear how staff can complain and report if incidences occur and interacting regularly with staff to ensure positive and safe relationships are being built.
However, with liability being extended to those actions of third parties including members of the public, how far can an employer be expected to go to protect their staff? Some have expressed concern about the policing of 'banter' and how this will affect workplace relationships with colleagues, customers and other third parties. Further, it was reported this month that Unions are now in fear that the Government will pull the Bill due to the backlash the Bill has received from Conservative politicians on creating costly lawsuits for employers. There is currently no announcement from the Government on whether they do intend to drop the bill or not.
If dropped, it may be a welcome relief for some employers, but this would also leave the most vulnerable employees still at risk. Regardless of the implementation of the Bill, employers should consider what actions they can take to protect their staff such as identifying risks for their staff from third parties, displaying notices within settings, updating or creating specific policies, including specific sexual harassment policies and training to meet any new duties which may be imposed.
For more information contact Alice McKenna in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 01254 222373. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.
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