New legislation requires employers to proactively prevent sexual harassment

Published Nov 17, 2023

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 has now received Royal Assent and will come into effect from October 2024.

The legislation will create a new duty on all employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sex harassment of their employees in the course of their work.

Failure to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment could result in the Equality and Human Right Commission taking enforcement action. Where there has been a successful claim for sexual harassment, and the employer is found to have been in breach of this statutory duty the Employment Tribunal will have the power to increase compensation by up to 25%.

The legislation amends the existing Equality Act which currently provides for a defence to a harassment claim if the employer can show they had taken all reasonable steps to prevent it from happening. However, there is currently no legal requirement on employers to take all reasonable steps.

The new law will place a legal obligation on employers to take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment.

The duty will only apply to sexual harassment and not other forms of harassment based on a protected characteristic (i.e. age, race, sexual orientation, etc.). The Act does not define what reasonable steps should be, however the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will draft a statutory code which should give this detail.

Although the legislation will not come into effect until late 2024 it is important to start preparing for the change and keep evidence of the actions that are taken.

Action employers can take over the next year to prepare and inform their workforce could include:

  • Review and update of anti-harassment and equality policies
  • Running tailored training sessions for all staff to build awareness and shape the culture of the organisation
  • Ensure all complaints are investigated and appropriate action taken
  • Implement support mechanisms for employees who raise concerns or complainants

If you would like to discuss bespoke harassment awareness training options for your organisation then please contact a member of the SSG team.