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Legal News | 17.01.24

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill

The Worker Protection Bill

On 26 October 2023 the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill received Royal Assent and is set to become the Worker Protection Act 2023. The Bill aims to increase employee protection from harassment under the Equality Act 2010 by introducing new provisions, including that employers must take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Initial proposal

When the Bill was introduced and passed to the House of Lords at the beginning of 2023, it sought to fundamentally strengthen protections available to employees at work.

Originally, the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 extended an employer’s liability to the harassment of employees by third parties, but this was repealed in 2013. Surveys conducted by the Government in recent years found that a substantial number of employees were victims of sexual harassment conducted by clients and customers, either in their own offices or when visiting them. Between 2008 and 2013 employers’ liability could only be established after three separate instances of harassment by a third party, before their liability was abolished altogether.

Sexual harassment and the employer’s duty of care towards their employees is perhaps the most important aspect of the Bill. When passed to the House of Lords, the Bill required employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Where an employer is found to have breached their duty of care to prevent sexual harassment, the scope for compensation under a successful claim should be increased by up to 25%.

What did the House of Lords change?

On the 20 October 2023, the House of Commons accepted two amendments made by the House of Lords, which substantially changed the Bill before receiving Royal Assent.

The first is that the third-party provisions were removed altogether. The reasons given for this change were the costs to businesses, the state becoming too involved in businesses, and that it would inhibit free speech.

The second is the burden for employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment has been reduced by removing “all” to simply require employers to take “reasonable steps.” The House of Lords was concerned that the duty would be too onerous and require employers to take an “almost infinite” number of steps.

What is next?

The Bill is set to come into force in October 2024, and it remains to be seen whether the Bill in its new form will generate more claims. Employers should be aware that they will be under the obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and also the increased costs that may come with any failure to do so. Such steps could include introducing new processes or reporting lines for employees to share confidential information and deal with any instances. Where appropriate, internal investigations into the workplace culture should be conducted to identify potential future issues that may arise.

If you would like advice on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, or have questions regarding the Worker Protection Bill please contact:  01380 733300 | commercial@wansbroughs.com

 

Posted By Our Corporate & Commercial Team