The Worker Protection Bill and Sexual Harassment at Work
The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill cleared its final legislative hurdle in the House of Commons in October 2023 and will become law in October 2024. It will introduce several important amendments to the 2010 Equality Act.
The background to this bill stems from a damning report by the Women and Equality Select Committee, which led to a 2019 consultation by the government finding that 54% of employees had experienced harassment at work. A 2022 Randstad report on Gender Equality in the Workplace found that 72% of women polled had experienced or witnessed harassing behaviour by male colleagues.
This Bill will bring in considerable changes to how sexual harassment is dealt with at work. Previously, large companies, including IKEA and McDonalds, entered into legal agreements with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), to protect their reputation after there were serious complaints from employees about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace which were not appropriately handled by management.
This new Bill will impose a proactive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment of employees in the course of their work. Although employers are already liable, this adds a duty for them to take reasonable steps to take action. In practical terms, employers must have policies and training in place and must make clear what is unacceptable. They must also show they can enforce these standards when necessary and take action to tackle any issues that may arise.
Sadly, the bill does not go as far as making employers liable for harassment committed by third parties, which would include customers, clients, service users and other people that an employee may interact with during the course of carrying out their duties. This is a disappointing decision as it weakens a key aspect of the bill. A 2023 study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that 39% of incidences of harassment in the workplace involved a third party rather than another member of staff.
However, the Workers Protection Bill also introduces a compensation uplift of up to 25% in situations where an employer fails to take reasonable steps to protect their employees from sexual harassment. The amount of compensation in sexual harassment cases varies depending on the financial loss experienced by the employee and the level of injury to feelings they have experienced. However, as there is no limit to the compensation that an Employment Tribunal can award, this could make this very costly for employers who have failed to prevent sexual harassment.
We would urge employers to ensure that they have systems and procedures in place to prevent sexual harassment taking place in the workplace, and to take prompt and fair action when allegations are made.
We have been running our campaign #MeTooMatters since 2018 in an attempt to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace. We therefore welcome the Worker Protection Bill and all the additional protections it gives employees and workers experiencing sexual harassment at work.