Keeping Employees Safe: The Worker Protection Bill 2022-23

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill places a duty on employers to protect their employees from harassment. Read about what it means for you ...

The UK government is making significant changes to workplace discrimination laws with the introduction of the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill which is a Private Member’s Bill introduced on 15 June 2022 by Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse.

This Bill represents one of the most significant updates to the UK's workplace discrimination laws since the 2010 Equality Act. It places a proactive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment of their employees, even by third parties, with the possibility of increased compensation if they fail to do so.

The Bill will go to the Commons for consideration of Lords amendments on Friday 20 October 2023.

Why is the Worker Protection Bill being introduced?

In 2018, the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC) published a report highlighting the extent of sexual harassment in workplaces. This report, along with campaigns by groups like the Fawcett Society, prompted the UK government to conduct its own consultation, revealing that 54% of respondents had experienced workplace harassment.

Workplace harassment, especially sexual harassment, has been a longstanding issue. A 2022 Gender Equality in the Workplace report by Randstad found that 72% of surveyed women had experienced or witnessed harassing behaviour from male colleagues, and 67% had faced gender discrimination. Additionally, 32% felt their careers were negatively impacted by sexual harassment.

Harassment isn't limited to colleagues; it can also come from third parties. A 2018 report by the TUC found that 36% of 18-34 year-olds who experienced workplace harassment identified third parties as the perpetrators.

What changes does the Worker Protection Bill propose?

The 2022 – 2023 Bill aims to make three key amendments to the Equality Act 2010:

  1. Proactive Duty on Employers: Employers must take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of employees during their work. This goes beyond existing vicarious liability for employee misconduct and extends protection to cover harassment by third parties. Employers may need to provide training on harassment, have equal opportunities and harassment policies, and regularly review these policies.

  2. Protection Against Harassment by Third Parties: Previous protections against harassment by third parties had a high bar for enforcement. The Bill removes the "three-strikes rule," making it easier to take action against third-party harassment.

  3. Compensation Uplift: If employers fail to take reasonable steps to protect employees from sexual harassment, they may face a compensation uplift of up to 25%. This aims to encourage employers to address sexual harassment more effectively.

A proposed amendment to balance free speech

The government has proposed an amendment to address concerns about potential restrictions on free speech. This amendment clarifies what employers are expected to do and sets a limit on what's considered reasonable. It states that employers won't be liable for acts that normally amount to harassment if certain conditions are met, mainly related to the context of conversations.

However, this amendment wouldn't apply to sexual harassment, leading to concerns that it could create confusion and offer less protection for sexual harassment cases.

How can employers prepare for the Worker Protection Bill?

The Bill is likely to become law, so employers should prepare in advance. Here are some steps they can take:

  • Review policies: Examine existing harassment, bullying, equal opportunity, and relevant policies. Update them to include training on different harassment scenarios, including third-party harassment, and provide guidance on intervention and support for victims.

  • Establish reporting lines: Ensure clear reporting mechanisms so that employees can report harassment confidently and safely.

  • Identify risks: Identify harassment risks based on specific roles and circumstances. Consider which roles interact with third parties and in what environments, and think about how the risks can be heightened for those who work alone. Consult employees or representatives for their input on potential control measures such as personal safety apps like SoloProtect Mobile.

  • Incident reporting: Create or update registers for reporting harassment incidents, adhering to data protection and storage requirements.

By taking these steps, employers can better navigate the changes introduced by the Worker Protection Bill and create safer workplaces for their employees.

How can a personal safety device or app help to deter and resolve workplace harassment?

Rolling out personal safety devices or mobile apps can give workers peace of mind that they can quickly and easily call for help if harassment occurs.

Users can either use the device/app as an overt deterrent or, where this may cause a situation to escalate, they can discreetly press a Red Alert panic button and know that an Alarm Receiving Centre operator will be listening in, locating the device or phone and swiftly sending help. 

Furthermore, audio recordings captured during these incidents serve as valuable evidence in subsequent investigations, promoting accountability and facilitating fair resolutions.

Useful resources:

If you have any questions about how a lone worker safety solution could help you protect your workers and comply with the Worker Protection Bill, please contact us using the form below.

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