The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill has successfully navigated its final legislative hurdle within the House of Commons in October 2023, marking its path to becoming law in October 2024. This groundbreaking piece of legislation is set to usher in a series of pivotal amendments to the 2010 Equality Act, thereby signifying a significant step forward in addressing workplace sexual harassment.
The genesis of this bill can be traced back to a scathing report by the Women and Equality Select Committee, which subsequently triggered a government consultation in 2019. This consultation unveiled a stark reality: a disconcerting 54% of employees had endured some form of harassment at their workplaces. Furthermore, the 2022 Randstad report on Gender Equality in the Workplace illuminated a distressing statistic, revealing that an alarming 72% of surveyed women had either experienced or witnessed harassing behavior perpetrated by their male colleagues.
In response to this pressing issue, the Worker Protection Bill is poised to usher in substantial changes in how sexual harassment is tackled within the workplace. In the past, major corporations, such as IKEA and McDonald’s, entered into legal agreements with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) as a damage control measure. This was in response to serious complaints from employees regarding sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, which had not been adequately addressed by management.
This new legislation places a proactive duty on employers to take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment within the realm of employment. While employers were already liable, this bill now explicitly obliges them to proactively address the issue. Practically, this means having policies and training in place, clearly defining unacceptable behavior, demonstrating the ability to enforce these standards when necessary, and taking action to address any issues that may arise.
Regrettably, the bill falls short of holding employers liable for harassment committed by third parties, such as customers, clients, or service users—an aspect that could significantly strengthen the bill. A 2023 study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) unearthed a troubling statistic: 39% of workplace harassment cases involved third parties, rather than fellow employees.
Nevertheless, the Workers Protection Bill introduces an incentive for employers to diligently safeguard their employees by offering a compensation uplift of up to 25% in cases where an employer fails to take reasonable steps to protect their workforce from sexual harassment. The amount of compensation awarded in such cases is contingent on the financial losses incurred by the employee and the emotional distress endured. Since there’s no upper limit to the compensation an Employment Tribunal can grant, this provision could potentially impose significant financial burdens on employers who have been negligent in preventing sexual harassment.
Here at Settlement Agreement UK we strongly urge employers to establish robust systems and procedures designed to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, coupled with a commitment to take swift and equitable action when allegations surface.