The anticipated Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 (Act) will come into force in October 2024.
The intention of this Bill, prior to it receiving Royal Assent on 26th October, was to strengthen worker protection by re-introducing a third-party harassment duty on employers, i.e. where employees where sexually harassed by third parties such as clients and suppliers of the employer. This duty had previously formed part of the Equality Act 2010 but was removed in 2013. Additionally, under the Bill the new duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace required them to take “all reasonable steps”.
Now in its final form, there has been concern expressed that the Act has diluted the protection of workers much to their detriment. In particular, the third party harassment duty has been removed completely and the duty to take “all reasonable steps” has been replaced with “reasonable steps”. However, from the employer’s perspective this will be welcome news as the original provisions were thought to be too onerous, placing too high a burden on employers.
Notwithstanding the removal of the word “all” in the employer duty to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, it should be remembered that this is still a new duty which provides workers with a level of protection that they did not previously have. From October 2024, it means that employers will be under a statutory duty to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and if they fail to do so, the Equality and Human Rights Commission can take enforcement action. Furthermore, if an employee succeeds in a harassment claim in the employment tribunal, compensation may be uplifted by up to 25%.
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