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The Workers Protection Bill - October 2024

View profile for Stephen Woodhouse
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Employer duty to prevent sexual harassment

The Worker Protection Bill takes effect from October 2024 and introduces a new duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees during the course of their employment.

Employment tribunals will therefore have the power to increase compensation by up to 25% in cases where the employer has been found not to have complied with this duty.

What might ‘reasonable steps’ look like? We consider below some practical steps you can take now to create a safe workplace.

1. Anti-harassment policy

Review and develop an anti-harassment policy that is clear, comprehensive and easily accessible to all employees. Clearly define prohibitive behaviours, reporting procedures and the consequences for violations.

A good anti-harassment policy will:

  • Confirm who the policy covers
  • State that sexual harassment will not be tolerated
  • State that sexual harassment is unlawful
  • State that sexual harassment may lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal if it is committed:
    • In a work situation
    • During any situation related to work such as at a social event with colleagues
    • Against a colleague or other person connected to the employer outside of a work situation, including social media
  • Against anyone outside of a work situation where the incident is relevant to their suitability to carry out the role
  • State that aggravating factors such as abuse of power over a more junior colleague will be taken into account when deciding what disciplinary action to take
  • Include an effective procedure for receiving and responding to complaints of harassment
  • Address third party harassment
  • Include a commitment to review the policy at regular intervals and to monitor its effectiveness.

2. Engage with staff

Regular one-to-ones and adopting an open-door policy will help foster open and proactive communication channels which will encourage employees to express concerns and provide feedback, creating an environment where issues can be addressed promptly. Consider other opportunities to detect harassment, including:

  • Sickness absence or return to work meetings
  • Meetings regarding performance
  • Exit interviews
  • Post-employment surveys
  • Mentoring programmes and staff networks

3. Risk assessment

Conducting an assessment of potential risks related to harassment within the workplace will assist you in identifying areas of vulnerability and implement mitigation measures to create a safer working environment.

4. Reporting system

Implementing a robust reporting system (e.g. online or an externally run telephone reporting system) allows and encourages workers to raise issues, and anonymously if they wish to do so. Ensure the system is promoted to all members of staff and reassure them of the confidentiality of the process.

5. Training

Provide comprehensive anti-harassment training to all staff on what constitutes sexual harassment, how to recognise it, and the appropriate actions to take if they experience or witness such behaviour.

You should keep records of who has received the training and ensure it is refreshed at regular intervals.

You should also consider training workers (e.g. members of HR or other nominated workers) in providing support to individuals who have experienced harassment through the process of making a complaint.

6. Responding to harassment

When you become aware that harassment is taking or has taken pace, it is important that you deal with it promptly, efficiently and sensitively ensuring you follow a robust anti-harassment procedure.

Demonstrating a commitment to addressing issues promptly, which not only supports the victim but also sends a clear message that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

Our employment law solicitors advise businesses on a rage of employment and HR issues, please call us on 0161 696 6170.