The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 (the “Act”) became law in England, Wales and Scotland on 26 October 2023, and will come into force in October 2024.
The Act, which introduces a positive legal duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect their employees from sexual harassment at work, builds upon existing legislation and a recent push by the UK’s financial regulators to tackle non-financial misconduct.
Where an Employment Tribunal (“ET”) finds an employee has been sexually harassed at work, and determines that compensation should be awarded, the ET must now consider whether the employer breached their duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment. Where an ET finds that an employer breached its duty, it will have discretion to increase the employee’s compensation by up to 25%. There is currently no cap on the compensation that can be awarded for sexual harassment claims.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission will also have jurisdiction to bring enforcement action.
While the bill was originally drafted to re-introduce a duty on employers to protect their staff from harassment by third parties (which was abolished in 2013), the House of Lords removed this provision before the bill became law.
Employers should consider reviewing their policies on harassment and related issues, and ensure their staff are properly trained to safely identify and intervene in situations where sexual harassment may arise.