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  • Writer's pictureBaljit Kaur

Sexual Harassment: what next?

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023, set to come into force in October 2024, marks a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to combat workplace harassment, particularly sexual harassment. This legislation, which has received Royal Assent, amends provisions in the 2010 Equality Act to place a greater emphasis on prevention rather than merely redress.

Under the amended legislation:

  • Employers will be held accountable for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, including instances involving third parties.

  • Employers must take reasonable steps to prevent such harassment, with penalties for non-compliance including an uplift of up to 25% in compensation awards for successful tribunal claims.

Previously, employers were required to demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to prevent their employees from engaging in discriminatory acts. This typically involved implementing policies such as equal opportunities and anti-harassment, along with providing regular training and policy reviews.

The new duty extends the scope of responsibility, requiring employers to proactively address the risk of harassment in various roles and circumstances. This includes maintaining a reporting register for harassment complaints, updating anti-harassment policies, and training, and implementing measures to protect employees, both internally and externally facing.

While the legislation aims to provide greater protection for employees, it also imposes a significant compliance burden on employers. However, the amendment from 'all reasonable steps' to 'reasonable steps' may offer some relief, although the exact interpretation and enforcement remain to be seen.

Steps for Businesses to Take

In anticipation of the new legislation coming into effect, businesses can take several proactive measures to enhance their compliance efforts:

Implement a Reporting Register:

Establish a reporting register for complaints about all forms of harassment in the workplace. This register should be securely maintained and accessible only to authorised personnel.

Review and Update Policies:

Conduct a thorough review of anti-harassment and dignity at work policies, ensuring they reflect the latest legal requirements and organisational values. Circulate these policies to all staff to raise awareness and promote adherence to expected standards of behaviour.

Enhance Training Programs:

Review and update anti-harassment training materials to ensure they remain relevant and effective. Training should be more than a mere formality; it should equip employees with the knowledge and skills to recognise and address harassment effectively.

By taking these proactive steps, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to creating a safe and respectful workplace environment while mitigating the risk of legal liabilities associated with workplace harassment.

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