This important amendment to the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill brings changes and new considerations to employers and employees from every work sector.
In this article, as well as looking at what the updates mean, we provide advice and insight on how businesses can protect themselves from potential prosecution and legal comebacks.
Above all else, employers will now shoulder responsibility for any third-party harassment of employees, with a duty of care and protection placed directly on employers to look after those affected, especially in a sexual context.
While the original 2010 legislation made significant headway towards offering protection (for example, putting in place equal opportunities policies or/and enforcing anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies, as well as pertinent anti-harassment training for staff), the signed off Worker Protection Act 2023 clarifies the roles and responsibilities of corporate leaders, managers, and decision-makers. While there has been ambiguity around many aspects of this, the legislation clears up any remaining grey areas. Particular attention has been paid to any “third party”. Which in this context is how customers or suppliers treat and address staff.
Improving treatment and respect for third parties
As the way we think and talk about gender discrimination progresses, so does this law. There are now consequences for comments, actions, and gestures that could be classified as offensive against all genders. If a customer or client of a business objectifies, discriminates or says something that pertains to physical appearance, this would be an example of harassment and a senior member of staff needs to intervene, protect and respond.
For example, an office worker makes a remark on a male colleague’s physique. The staff member makes an official complaint, which can now be upheld under this legislation. The employer’s role and responsibility are to provide the required support to the complainant, while also following any official rules of law.
The most important takeaway is that the original complaint is against the employer and NOT the person who made the comment, so it’s critical employers (especially HR/People/Personnel teams) become familiar with all elements of this law before it becomes an issue.
A cursory glance or putting it off for another day may well be an expensive form of procrastination as there’s likely to be a financial implication for not performing due diligence. In an article from Clyde and Co Law, the duty to prevent sexual harassment is enforceable via an employment tribunal where “it has first upheld a claim for sexual harassment”. If the finding is that employer duty and care has been breached, the employer may well face up to 25 per cent uplift in any compensation paid out. And with no maximum on the pay-out for sexual harassment, this figure could run into thousands for a successfully upheld complaint.
Find out more about the financial implications to employers here.
If we also include the possible participation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) when this new law is seen to be breached, it’s better to be familiar rather than fall foul of the new law.
How Management Liability insurance can protect you and your business
While every work environment has its own challenges, hospitality workers are more constantly exposed to the public or third parties, so there is the opportunity for more harassment incidents and hostile encounters. Also, unlike an office where there are HR rules, it’s rare to have these for customers. However, whether we’re talking about a verbal insult or an invasive physical gesture, as an employer you can’t control the actions of those that visit your premises, but you can control what happens next.
Both Management Liability insurance and Directors & Officers insurance from Howden offer protection and cover when an employee complains. We can’t ever second-guess the actions of third parties, but the correct insurance is the security you need when faced with the possibility of an escalating compensation pay-out.
This article comes courtesy of Howden Insurance – an expert group that does insurance differently – offering flexible, high-quality cover and reassuringly straightforward service, while using insurance as a tool to increase resilience. United by a no-limits mindset, Howden is a powerful and passionate team, rising to any challenge to do right by your business.