Fri 28 Jul 2023

Protection from harassment legislation watered down

The House of Lords has amended the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill to remove the provision making employers liable for third party harassment.

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill ("the Bill") was introduced to Parliament as a private members bill with the purpose of both imposing a duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent their employees from being sexually harassed and to re-introduce employer liability for harassment of their employees by third parties, such as customers or suppliers.

The Bill has been making its way through Parliament over the past 6 months or so with much of the debate surrounding it focussed on the third-party liability provisions.  There were concerns raised in the House of Lords as to how employers could reasonably protect staff from comments they overhear during the course of their work and which they may find offensive.  Issues also arose around the impact the Bill potentially had on freedom of speech.  In an attempt to address these issues, the Bill was re-drafted so employers were not going to be liable for such comments unless they were targeted at their staff, rather than simply overhead.  However, following further debate, the House of Lords agreed an amendment to entirely remove the provision seeking to re-introduce employer liability for third party harassment. 

A second amendment was also agreed, this time to the provision relating to protection of employees from sexual harassment in the course of their employment.  In the original, Bill employers had a duty to take "all reasonable steps" to prevent their employees being sexually harassed, but that has been watered down to "reasonable steps".  This will be a new test specific to the duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and it therefore remains to be seen what an employer will have to do meet it.  During the debate in the House of Lords it was stated that employers "….have handbooks, training, town halls and all kinds of ordinary management mechanisms…." to allow them to ensure that they take "reasonable steps".

Although the Bill has not yet completed its passage through the Houses of Parliament it was confirmed by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Baroness Scott that the UK Government will seek to accept the amendments. 

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