Employer Preparations for Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In recent years, the landscape of sexual harassment in the workplace has undergone significant changes. With a growing awareness of the issue and the #MeToo movement sparking conversations globally, there has been increased scrutiny on employers’ responsibilities in preventing and addressing sexual harassment.

In this article, Employment Law Solicitor Mohammed Balal explores the changes to the sexual harassment duty on employers and considers the proactive measures which employers are now obliged to take to prevent sexual harassment within the workplace.

The new legislation

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023, will come into force on 26 October 2024.

The new legislation will require employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees, during the course of their employment.

This applies to sexual harassment which is defined in the Equality Act as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.

New rules on preventing sexual harassment

The UK’s anti-discrimination law already mandates that employers must take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment at work.

In cases where an individual engages in discriminatory behaviour including harassment, whilst in their employment, their employer is typically held accountable unless they can prove they took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent such conduct.

However, this defence is rarely effective in practice due to the high threshold of what constitutes ‘all reasonable steps’, making it challenging for employers to demonstrate full compliance.

Although the ‘all reasonable steps’ defence remains intact, the Act introduces a new proactive obligation. From October 2024, employers must implement reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment of their employees during their employment.

This obligation requires employers to showcase specific actions taken to fulfil their duty to safeguard employees from sexual harassment.

More serious repercussions of failing to comply

If an employee succeeds in a claim for sexual harassment, an Employment Tribunal will need to consider if the employer breached its duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the act or omission.

Under the new regulations, the Tribunal could award a 25% uplift to any compensation awarded to the employee for the unlawful harassment.

The Tribunal already have the power to increase compensation payments where an employer has failed to comply with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures.

Under the new legislation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission will have powers to take enforcement actions against the company or organisation which is in breach of the new duty.

How to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

Policy review and development

Employers should review and, if necessary, revise their existing policies and procedures related to sexual harassment prevention. This includes clearly outlining what constitutes sexual harassment at work, how to report incidents, and the consequences for perpetrators. These updated policies should be circulated to all staff to ensure they are aware of the changes.

Training and awareness

Sexual harassment training programs should be implemented to raise awareness among employees about what constitutes sexual harassment, its impact, and the procedures for reporting incidents. Employers should ensure that managers and supervisors receive additional training on how to handle reports of sexual harassment effectively and sensitively.

Promoting a positive culture

Employers play a crucial role in fostering a workplace culture that prioritises respect, inclusivity, and accountability. This involves promoting open communication channels, encouraging bystander intervention, and actively challenging inappropriate behaviours.

Reporting mechanisms

Establishing confidential and accessible reporting mechanisms is essential for encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward with complaints. This can help you identify any trends and provide an opportunity to resolve the issues.

Employers will need to consider the data protection implications of creating a reporting mechanism. They should ensure any information can only be accessed on a ‘need-to-know’ basis and is appropriately secured.

Monitoring and review

Employers should regularly monitor the effectiveness of their sexual harassment prevention strategies through employee feedback, and periodic reviews.

The new duty imposed on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment represents a significant shift in workplace regulation.

By proactively addressing this obligation through sexual harassment policy development, training, cultural promotion, and leadership commitment, employers can create a safer and more inclusive work environment.

Adhering to these guidelines not only ensures legal compliance but also fosters a positive organisational culture that values respect and dignity for all employees.

How can Butcher & Barlow assist with the new legislation on sexual harassment?

The Employment Law Team at Butcher & Barlow can provide expert legal advice on the implications of the proposed changes, ensuring that as an employer you understand your legal obligations. Our Employment Solicitors can:

  • Provide guidance on updating and implementing policies and procedures to align with the expanded duty to prevent sexual harassment, ensuring that you have comprehensive frameworks in place to address workplace harassment effectively.
  • Review existing sexual harassment policies and procedures to identify any gaps or areas for improvement in light of the legislative changes and draft new policies tailored to your specific needs.
  • Provide and deliver customised training programmes for you and your management team to raise awareness of sexual harassment issues and provide guidance on what constitutes sexual harassment and how to recognise it.

Our tailored legal solutions will ensure that you and your business are prepared for the changes coming into force in October and that you are promoting a safe and respectful work environment.

For further guidance and advice please get in touch. Mohammed can be contacted at mbalal@butcher-barlow.co.uk or on 0161 764 4062.


Mohammed Balal

Mohammed Balal