A new Act which emphasises employers’ duty to take preventive action against sexual harassment at work has received Royal Assent.
The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act which covers sexual harassment at work has been given Royal Assent and will come into force in October 2024.
The Act imposes a new duty on UK employers to take reasonable steps to prevent their employees being sexually harassed at work. Employment tribunals will also be able to increase awards by 25 per cent where the duty to prevent harassment has not been complied with. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission will have the power to take enforcement action against firms that breach this duty, and businesses may face increased compensation claims if they fail to prevent sexual harassment.
The Act has proved controversial after a proposed liability on employers for harassment of their employees by third parties was dropped and a proactive duty on employers to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment was diluted, removing the word ‘all’.
Writing in the Law Gazette, lawyer and strategy lead at byrne-dean Samantha Mangwana says: “The new law seeks to move us from a culture of redress to one of prevention by creating a preventative duty: a requirement that employers take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening to their employees in the course of their employment. In the same way that health and safety law works with workplace hazards that might pose a risk to staff wellbeing, the onus will now fall on the firm to prevent it from happening in the first place.
“The preventative duty represents a major innovation to our equality laws, for the first time, flipping responsibility onto the firm to take action proactively, rather than to wait and see if any crisis emerges. That will require more than just a change in mindset – it needs care and attention, with an approach tailored to the individual organisation. The time is now.”