In 2019 the government launched a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace which looked at areas such as whether employers should be under a pro-active duty to prevent harassment and whether the time limit for bringing harassment claims should be extended.
The government has now published their response to the consultation and has made a number of commitments, stating that they “will be providing further protections to employees who are the victims of sexual harassment, whilst also furnishing employers with the motivation and support to put in place practises and policies which respond to the needs of their organisation”.
So, what has the government said and what are the expected changes?
A new pro-active duty to prevent sexual harassment
Under current legislation, employers are already required to take all reasonable steps to prevent workplace harassment, but it’s expected this will be strengthened to include a new proactive duty on employers.
The government has said that they intend to bring forward legislation to introduce a new duty as soon as parliamentary time allows and that they will “engage with affected stakeholders throughout the process of drafting the legislation, including on the matter of compensation models, to ensure that what is introduced works properly when applied to real workplaces”.
Increased guidance for employers
The government has acknowledged that increasing employer understanding and awareness of the preventative steps they should be taking to comply with the law and make workplaces safer is vital if a preventative duty is to have the desired impact. To this end, a new statutory code of practice will be developed and accessible guidance for employers will be produced to compliment it.
Third party harassment
The government has committed to introducing workplace protections against third-party harassment when parliamentary time allows. You may remember that employers had previously been liable for third party harassment under the Equality Act in certain circumstances, but this specific protection was repealed.
We don’t yet know the details of the new protections as the government has said that they will continue to work with stakeholders to help shape them, particularly on whether it should only apply in situations in which an incident of harassment has already occurred. They have however confirmed that there will be a defence for employers of having taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the harassment.
Tribunal time limits for Equality Act cases
The government have been considering whether the current time limits for bringing a tribunal claim under the Equality Act are sufficient. Equal pay cases aside, there is currently a 3-month time limit for bringing a claim to an employment tribunal with judges having the discretion to provide extensions where they consider it is ‘just and equitable’ to do so.
The government haven’t announced a decision on this area yet, but they have stated that they will “look closely at extending the limit. In doing so, we will build on the understanding… gained through this consultation”. They have said that if they were to introduce an extension, they would need to do so for all Equality Act based cases and not just some, to ensure clarity for employers and employees.
We will keep you updated with further developments in these areas, in the meantime if you have an employment law matter you would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we are happy to help.