Published: 20 June 2023 by Elizabeth Varley, Trainee Solicitor
Employer liability for the harassment of employees by third parties is not an entirely new concept. Employers were previously liable for harassment by third parties under the Equality Act 2010 until 2013 when these provisions were repealed.
However, the Worker Protection Bill seeks to re-introduce liability, albeit with a higher degree of culpability. Employers will no longer benefit from the three-strike rule afforded under the old legislation; liability can be imposed in the first instance.
As outlined above, the Worker Protection Bill seeks to impose a proactive duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment of employees from third parties in the course of their work.
Understandably, many have been concerned as to what effect the Worker Protection Bill will have on free speech in the workplace. To tackle this, the Government has proposed an amendment which ‘signals to employers where their ceiling of action should be’. The proposed amendment seeks to cap liability so that employers will not be liable for harassment resulting from an employee overhearing a conversation at work where opinions were expressed on “political, moral, religious or social” matters.
The amendments would not apply to cases of sexual harassment. Where cases of sexual harassment are found, the Worker Protection Bill makes provision for a ‘compensation uplift’ of up to 25% to be awarded in cases where the employer is in breach of their duty.
The Worker Protection Bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords on 24th May 2023 and the Committee stage has been scheduled for 14th July 2023.
Current Government support of the Worker Protection Bill suggests that it will pass subject to the sorts of amendments outlined above, although doubts have been raised recently about the strength of this commitment.
Watch this space.
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