How has the Bill changed?
The House of Commons have approved the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill (the Bill), albeit in a form that is significantly less onerous than had been originally proposed.
As originally proposed, the Bill would have:
- imposed liabilities on employers for failure to take “all reasonable steps” to protect their staff from third party harassment (essentially seeking to re-create protections that previously existed under the Equality Act 2010, which were removed by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2003); and
- created a new legal duty for employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment of staff during the course of employment. This duty was stated to be enforceable by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
In the version of the Bill that was approved, item one above was removed in its entirety. Item two was recast to require the employer to take “reasonable steps”, rather than “all reasonable steps” to prevent the sexual harassment of their staff.
The net result is that rather than establishing a duty for employers to protect their employees against third party harassment on the basis of any protected characteristic, the Bill now only establishes a duty in relation to “sexual harassment”, as defined under the Equality Act 2010.
What are the next steps and how can employers prepare?
The Bill will become law once it receives royal assent and is expected to be the ninth main new law to come into force in 2024.
As such, employers should be preparing themselves now, so that they can achieve seamless compliance with the new law. Some practical steps employers could take include:
- Carrying out reviews of current harassment, bullying, equal opportunity and other relevant policies. It is recommended that these are updated to include situational training and examples of harassment, including that by third parties and to offer support and guidance on how to safely intervene and support victims.
- Establish clear reporting lines so that employees can confidently and safely report incidences of harassment in the workplace.
- Identify harassment risks in respect of workplace roles and circumstances, with specific protective measures. For instance, it would be advisable to carry out assessments on which roles frequently interact with third parties, in what ways and in what environments, so that tailored steps can be taken to reduce risk. It may also be beneficial to consult with employees/employee representatives on their experiences and what measures they think would make a practicable difference.
- Create or update registers for reporting incidents of harassment (taking into account all data protection and storage requirements).