Worker Protection Act “beginning of a much needed culture change’
The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act received Royal Assent on 26 October 2023. The Act makes employers liable for harassment of employees and workers and creates a new positive duty to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. Employers will be liable even for one-off incidents of harassment, unless they can show that they took “reasonable steps”, to prevent the harassment from occurring.
Harassment on the grounds of protected characteristics relating to age, disability, gender re-assignment, race, religion or belief, gender and sexual orientation are covered. Marriage, civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity are not included in the current protection from harassment and so are not covered under these new rules.
As the Bill made its way through Parliament the House of Lords made two amendments to the final version, removing the proposed liability of employers for third-party harassment in the workplace, and changing the requirement on employers to take “reasonable steps” rather than “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment.
While the wording in the original bill was amended to appease Conservative peers’ concerns over free speech and employers being exposed to costly lawsuits, the sponsor of the Bill, Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat MP, although disappointed by what she considered “watering down” said that the Act “should be good for organisations because it protects them as well” adding that “there are many good employers who have implemented measures to safeguard their employees…far too many have not done enough to prevent and punish sexual harassment”. She predicted that there will be guidance for employers so that they know exactly what is expected of them.