The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill (the Bill) received Royal Assent on 26 October 2023, becoming the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 (the Act). The Act will come into force in October 2024, and will extend to England, Wales and Scotland.
The Act amends provisions in the Equality Act 2010 to strengthen existing protections for employees from sexual harassment. Specifically, the Act:
- introduces a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees; and
- provides Employment Tribunals with the power to uplift any compensation awarded in a successful sexual harassment case by up to 25% where an employee is found to have breached the above duty (i.e. not taken reasonable steps).
In its initial form, the Bill included provisions which proposed liability on employers for harassment by third parties (such as a customer, client, supplier or contractor) and a duty to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment. These were removed by the House of Lords in early review stages. The House of Lords were concerned that including third party liability on employers would increase the cost to businesses, curtail free speech and mean excessive intervention by the State in business.
Although there has been some criticism that the Act is a watered-down version of the initial proposal, the Act is, nonetheless, a step in a positive direction for protecting employees in the workplace by shifting the focus of employers from redress to action and prevention. Employers should, at a minimum, ensure appropriate and regular training is provided to managers and all staff on sexual harassment and procedures are in place for responding to and dealing with complaints.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission intends to update its technical guidance on sexual harassment to reflect the new duty and the steps that employers should take to comply with the law.