New workplace harassment rules: what you need to know

It’s amazing how in 2023, workplace harassment is still rife in the UK. A recent study found that almost 3 in 5 women have been harassed at work. The Government and Crown responded by pushing forward the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill. This bill aims to modify how workplaces in the UK handle harassment. In this blog, we'll break down the key changes, what they mean for employers and employees, and when these changes come into effect.

Decoding the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill

The bill introduces new regulations for workplace harassment. Once the bill comes into effect, here’s what you need to know:

  • Employer's Duty: Preventing Sexual Harassment of Employees: Under this bill, your employer is legally bound to take reasonable steps to prevent any form of unwanted, sexually related harassment in your workplace.
  • Enforcement of Employer's Duty: Employers who fail to fulfil their duty to prevent sexual harassment can face legal consequences. This means they could be held accountable for not taking adequate measures to combat sexual harassment.
  • Compensation Uplift for Harassment Victims: If you experience sexual harassment at work and a Tribunal determines that your employer did not do enough to prevent it, they may face more substantial penalties, with a potential award increase of up to 25%.

Key Amendments

The House of Lords played a pivotal role in shaping the final version of the bill, making two critical amendments:

  • Third-party Harassment Liability: Initially, the bill proposed that employers would be held liable for harassment by third parties, such as customers or service users. However, this was removed after MPs complained.
  • Reasonable Steps: The bill initially required employers to take "all reasonable steps" to prevent sexual harassment. It was later changed to "reasonable steps.”

Introduction of a New Statutory Code

To support these changes, a new statutory code on sexual harassment will be published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This code is expected to mandate employers to provide training, establish policies addressing sexual harassment, and adopt a zero-tolerance approach.

Implementation and Next Steps

These new obligations will come into effect in late 2024, one year after the bill became law. During this period, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is expected to formulate new rules. While this bill doesn’t fully protect workers thanks to the MP’s amendments, it does place more responsibility on UK employers to protect their workers. It also ensures that if they do fail, they may face more substantial penalties. Stay tuned for updates as these changes take effect in 2024.