Despite the general election on 4 July, the UK is already going to get new sexual harassment laws. The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 will come into force in October 2024.

The Worker Protection Act 2023 is not as strong as Labour had wanted, but it does place some new duties on employers regarding their sexual harassment prevention policies and practices.

Mandatory reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment 

Previously, employers were only required to demonstrate that “reasonable steps” had been taken to prevent sexual harassment in response to a claim. However, under the new law, all employers must proactively incorporate “reasonable steps” into their sexual harassment policies and best practices, regardless of whether any claims have been made. Essentially, employers are now mandated to take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment and must be able to demonstrate their efforts.

Third-party accountability and sexual harassment

Despite prior discussions, third-party accountability – i.e. holding employers accountable for the actions of third-party stakeholders like contractors, clients or customers – remains unchanged. In other words, employers are not liable for the actions of third parties under the new and previous law.

But the legislation was watered down during its passage through parliament. Gone is the duty to protect employees from sexual harassment by third parties like clients or suppliers. Gone too are harassment protections related to other protected characteristics. Even harassment related to sex (like sexism or misogyny) is not included in the new law, only harassment that is specifically of a sexual nature. 

A backlash by Conservative peers over requiring businesses to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent harassment was removed. Only “reasonable steps” are mandated by the new legislation.

What are Labour’s plans for sexual harassment?

Labour have committed to re-introducing the measure of “all reasonable steps” to tackle sexual harassment. Labour may also decide to expand the law back to its original formulation of protecting employees from third party harassment, and ensure the law covers misogyny and sexism. 

Deputy leader Angela Rayner has outlined plans for sexual harassment laws to protect interns and volunteers, and may even introduce tougher measures such as a “failure to prevent sexual harassment” offence for employers.

“The next Labour government will strengthen the legal duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent sexual harassment at work and will ensure this duty applies to contracted interns and volunteers as well as employees.”

-Angela Rayner

The government had not yet published guidance on the Worker Protection Act as of the election being called. So it is possible that a Labour government could enhance the law through statutory guidance prior to any legislative action.

What does this mean for business?

  • Prepare for taking “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment
  • Consider introducing comprehensive harassment training and stricter policies
  • Understand how to prevent third party harassment if the law is strengthened
  • Consider how to protect volunteers or interns from harassment
  • Prepare a plan to prevent harassment based on other protected characteristics, such as sex or race

The General Election and Compliance – Special Webinar

Every sector could be impacted and every area of compliance is likely to be reviewed by the next government. From overhauls of financial services regulation, reviews of data protection law, closer alignment with EU regulations and an expansion of health and safety protections, the next parliament will see compliance at the centre of the regulatory agenda.

With everything from whistleblowing reform to overhauls of corporate governance, new employment rights like menopause leave and expanded equal pay rules, alongside crackdowns on tax evasion and expansion of the money laundering regulations, organisations large and small should prepare for the outcome of the general election.

This webinar will cover:

  • What the main parties are pledging on key compliance areas
  • Potential changes to legislation including the Equality Act, sexual harassment and employment rights
  • Expected legislation on AML, bribery, sanctions, fraud and economic crime
  • Possible expansion of regulations around GDPR, AI and health and safety
  • Preparing your organisation for future regulatory changes and new requirements