A new duty to prevent sexual harassment at work?
The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 has received royal assent and will come into force on 26 October 2024.
The Worker Protection Act 2023 places responsibility on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the work place.
What are the new requirements?
There is a requirement for employers to take “reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment of employees in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as unwanted conduct of a “sexual nature”. The Act also gives Employment Tribunals the power to uplift sexual harassment compensation by up to 25% where an employer is found to have breached this duty.
What does “reasonable steps” mean?
There is similar wording in the Equality Act 2010 which provides a defence to a harassment claim if the employer can show that they had taken all reasonable steps to prevent it from happening, however there is no actual requirement for it do so. The Act provides a legal obligation on all employers to take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. There is no definition of what “reasonable steps” are. We understand that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will be working in guidance in relation to this new legislation.
How can a claim be made?
If an employee is looking to bring a claim alleging that the employer has breached the new duty then this can be brought in the Employment Tribunal but must also be brought alongside a claim for sexual harassment.
The duty can also be enforced by the EHRC.
Despite the legislation coming into force in October 2024 it is important to start taking steps now to evidence that you are taking reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. This will include updating policies, provide tailored training all employees (including contractors, agency staff and volunteers) on the policies. It is important that staff are able to raise concerns and such concerns are investigated promptly.