Prioritising Workplace Safety: The Worker Protection Act 2023

Photograph of Graham Shannon

Posted: 24th June 2024
by Graham Shannon

The recent enactment of the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 marks a significant shift in ensuring workplace safety, specifically addressing and preventing sexual harassment among employees. This Act, which received Royal Assent on 26 October 2023, introduces a vital obligation on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment within the workplace. Scheduled to come into force a year after its passing, the Act amends the existing Equality Act 2010, signifying a crucial step in reshaping the landscape of employee protection in the professional sphere.

One of the fundamental changes brought by this Act is the introduction of a distinct duty for employers. They are now mandated to proactively take reasonable measures to prevent instances of sexual harassment among their workforce. This amendment reflects a recognition of the need for an employer’s active involvement in fostering a safer and more respectful work environment.

Moreover, the Act empowers employment tribunals with the authority to potentially increase compensations by up to 25% if an employer is found to have violated this new duty to prevent sexual harassment. This provision acts as a deterrent, encouraging employers to prioritize a culture of respect and safety within their organizations.

Throughout the legislative process, significant changes were made to the initial Bill. Originally, the requirement stipulated that employers had to take ‘all’ reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. However, an amendment during its journey through the House of Lords modified the language to ‘reasonable steps.’ This change reflects a balance between ensuring accountability and acknowledging practical limitations that employers might face in certain situations.

Notably, the discussion around an employer’s liability for the harassment of employees by third parties in the course of employment was revisited during the Bill’s passage. Although the provision that would reintroduce this liability was removed, Wera Hobhouse MP, the Bill’s sponsor, highlighted that while these amendments narrowed the scope of the Bill, they still reinforce the message for employers to prioritize prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. The acknowledgment of these changes underlines the intent to promote a culture of responsibility among employers without placing an undue burden on them.

The Act, despite undergoing amendments, remains a critical step forward in ensuring workplace safety and fostering a culture of respect and accountability. The emphasis on preventing sexual harassment is not just a legal requirement but a significant step towards shaping better workplace practices and cultures.

In summary, the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 underscores a paradigm shift in recognizing the responsibility of employers to actively prevent sexual harassment. It stands as a testament to the commitment towards ensuring a safe, respectful, and equitable work environment for all employees.

This Act’s implementation will not only serve as a legal obligation but also as a catalyst for transformative changes, promoting a more conscientious, respectful, and safe professional landscape for workers.

Stay tuned for updates and insights on how this Act influences workplace dynamics as it comes into effect and shapes employer-employee relations in the future.