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A new duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment

By November 21, 2023Legal Update
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The Equality Act 2010 is a defining piece of legislation aimed at preventing unlawful discrimination in the UK, encompassing protection against harassment generally, which relates to a relevant protected characteristic. At the end of October, it underwent an update through the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023, officially becoming law across the UK.

Enforcement and Timeline

The implications of this new Act, set to be enforced one year from 26 October 2024, impose an increased responsibility on employers to prevent harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace.

One of the key provisions introduces a specific duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of employees. Moreover, it stipulates that any compensation awarded for harassment, found to be of a sexual nature, may see an increase of up to 25% if the employer fails to fulfil this new duty.

Preparation for Change

While this legislation is scheduled to take effect in a year’s time, it is crucial for employers to anticipate and prepare for the changes it entails. Employers are expected to proactively establish measures that encompass reasonable steps in preventing sexual harassment. This might involve regular and effective training, robust policies, thoughtful event planning to mitigate risks, and consistent, thorough investigations of complaints.

Impact on Current Practices

However, this Act may not substantially alter the practices of employers who are already dedicated to upholding good employment practices, particularly in preventing discrimination and harassment. The term ‘reasonable steps’ remains open to interpretation, and as cases arise and case law develops, a clearer understanding of what constitutes reasonable steps may emerge.

For those interested in the development of this new duty, a notable point to consider is the modified nature of this legislation. Originally, the Act was proposed to necessitate employers to take ‘all’ reasonable steps to prevent harassment, yet the word ‘all’ has been omitted. Additionally, an initial plan included specific protection against third-party harassment, which is no longer a part of the finalised Act.

This development has sparked varied reactions, with some viewing it as a diluted approach compared to the earlier proposal and others believing it to be a more proportionate obligation on businesses than it would have otherwise been.

Preparing for Change – Employers’ Advisory

Employers would be well-advised to prepare for these forthcoming modifications to ensure compliance and, more importantly, to create safe and respectful work environments for all employees.

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