The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill has received Royal Assent, imposing from 26 October 2024 a new proactive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their staff in the workplace.
The new Act amends the Equality Act 2010 to introduce the new duty, whose proactive nature means that employers will need to be able to demonstrate that they have taken active steps to comply with it, typically by providing training across the workforce. It will be insufficient for example simply to have a policy prohibiting sexual harassment by employees.
The amended law also provides employment tribunals with the power to increase compensation to claimants by up to 25% where an employer is found to have breached the new law. The new duty will operate alongside rather than replacing employees’ existing protections from sexual harassment in the Equality Act by increasing the potential compensation available.
The revised law also empowers the Equality and Human Rights Commission to issue an unlawful act notice to an employer if it discovers during the course of an investigation or afterwards that there has been non-compliance with the duty.
When it was originally introduced into Parliament the Bill provided that an employer would have to take ‘all’ reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees in the course of employment and also proposed reintroducing the duty on employers to prevent harassment by third parties, which was repealed in 2013. Both of these proposals faced objections during the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords and the proposal on third party harassment was removed in its entirety.
Wera Hobhouse MP, who sponsored the Bill, nevertheless maintained that the new duty ‘will still send a strong signal to employers that they need to take action to prioritise prevention of sexual harassment and ultimately improve workplace practices and cultures’.
For further information, please contact:
Meriel Schindler, Partner, Withersworldwide