In our recent employment bulletin we flagged that we expected to see changes in the law around third party harassment (for example how your staff are treated by visitors). Recent amendments to the ‘Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill’ meant that we weren’t expecting the changes to come into force anytime soon.
Two further amendments were agreed by the House of Lords back in July to ensure its passage through Parliament, and have a significant impact on the changes that will (or won’t) be introduced. In summary, the Lords voted to:
- 1) Remove clause 1 of the Bill and so remove employer liability for the harassment of employees by third parties in the course of employment
- This is a reversal of the initial proposal, which would have introduced employer liability for third party harassment of employees in the course of their employment. The law will therefore stay the same, meaning that – unless the failure to protect an employee relates to a protected characteristic – employers won’t be liable for third party harassment.
- 2) Amend clause 2 of the Bill so that employers must take “reasonable steps”, rather than “all reasonable steps”, for the new duty to prevent sexual harassment in the course of employment
- While this amendment reduces the burden on employers, it’s important to note that the amendment does not change the existing provisions of section 109(4) of the Equality Act, which states that employers are responsible for any act of harassment committed by employees unless they have taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent it. What it does do is create a different “reasonable steps” test for the new duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment.
- Recent debates have confirmed that the government would seek to accept the Lords’ amendments, though the Labour Party have indicated they would re-visit these issues in future if elected.