New duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment

2 mins

Posted on 22 Jul 2021

New duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment

Government to extend workplace protections against harassment

The Government has confirmed it will introduce a new duty requiring employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The confirmation comes in its response to its 2019 consultation on preventing sexual harassment at work.

The Government has also confirmed it will:

  • Introduce laws protecting employees against harassment by third parties
  • Look closely at extending the 3-month time limit for bringing claims under the Equality Act 2010 so victims of discrimination, harassment and victimisation have 6 months to bring a claim

However, it will not be extending protections under the Equality Act 2010 to volunteers and interns (although it recognises that many interns are protected already).

New duty to prevent sexual harassment

The Government believes that a new duty to prevent sexual harassment will prompt employers to take positive steps to prevent harassment occurring. The new duty will require employers “to take all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment occurring. To help employers comply with the new duty: 

  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission will  develop a statutory code of practice to complement its technical guidance published in January 2020 
  • With input from employers’ organisations and academics in the field, the Government will produce accessible guidance for employers outlining the practical steps organisations can take to comply with the new duty.  

Third-party harassment protection

The Government will also legislate to introduce workplace protections against harassment by third parties, such as customers and clients.  It has not yet set out the shape the protection will take but says it is considering whether the protection should only apply in situations where an incident of harassment has already occurred. Employers will have a defence if they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the harassment.

Time limits for bringing claims

The Government will look closely at extending the current 3-month time limit for bringing claims. If it decides to extend the time limit, the new limit would be 6 months and would apply to all claims under the Equality Act 2010, not just harassment claims.   

When will the law change?

It is unclear exactly when the new duty to prevent harassment and the third-party harassment protections will be introduced. The Government says it will introduce legislation “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.  

Key Contacts

Peter Daly

  • Partner
  • T: +44 (0) 207 778 7241
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Tina Wisener

  • Partner & Head of Reading Office
  • T: +44 (0)118 951 6760
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Dan Begbie-Clench

  • Partner & Head of Canary Wharf Office
  • T: +44 (0)20 7778 7225
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