New employer duty to prevent sexual harassment from October 2024

Earlier this year, we reported on the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill (‘the Bill’) as it made its way through Parliament.  The Bill received Royal Assent on 26 October 2023, becoming the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 (‘the Act’) and is expected to come into force in October 2024.

What does this mean for employers?

Employees already have the right not to suffer sexual harassment at work under the Equality Act 2010 and there is no change to these existing protections.

The Act introduces a new and additional duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees in the course of employment.  If employers fail to do so, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (‘the EHRC’) can take enforcement action.

The Act also gives employment tribunals the power to increase any compensation awarded to an employee by up to 25% where they have been sexually harassed and the employer is found to have breached the new duty.

Wera Hobhouse MP, who sponsored the Bill said that the new duty ‘will…send a strong signal to employers that they need to take action to prioritise prevention of sexual harassment and ultimately improve workplace practices and cultures’.

What should employers do now?

It is expected that a new statutory code on sexual harassment will be published by the EHRC in due course.  In the meantime, it is advisable for employers to:

  • Revisit anti-harassment policies and procedures to ensure they contain robust and effective anti-harassment measures and strategies.
  • Provide training on anti-harassment policies and procedures.  The training needs to be effective and more than a box-ticking exercise.
  • Ensure appropriate and thorough investigation following any complaints of sexual harassment.
  • Ensure effective and appropriate action is taken when it is found that an incident of sexual harassment has taken place.  Employers will need to demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach.
  • Ensure that any anonymous surveys include topics on respect at work.