Changes to sexual harassment in the workplace laws in 2024: what employers need to know

Noella Gooden

Article written by Noella Gooden, Employment Solicitor (Australian qualified)

In October 2024, significant changes to the Equality Act 2010 are set to be implemented and employers must understand their new responsibilities in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 received royal assent in October 2023 and will:

  1. Introduce a duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees.
  2. Grant Employment Tribunals the power to uplift sexual harassment compensation by up to 25% where the employers is found to have breached the new duty to prevent sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment occurs where both:

  • An employee engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature; and
  • The conduct has the purpose or effect of either violating the recipient’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

A person can be sexually harassed by someone of the same or a different sex. Any gender can be sexually harassed.

What can employers do?

Employers should take steps to prepare for the changes including:

  • Establishing robust reporting mechanisms to assure employees that their complaints will be handled confidentially and sensitively with a commitment to conducting prompt and thorough investigations of complaints.
  • Promoting a positive and inclusive work culture where staff are encouraged to demonstrate respectful behaviours, and managers who address issues in a timely manner.
  • Reviewing and updating harassment, bullying and equal opportunities policies in the staff handbook.
  • Addressing any training needs. Do staff need to attend a training course on diversity and inclusion and/or sexual harassment?
  • Create open channels for employee feedback and any concerns they may have.

Taking proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment issues arising will not only help employers comply with the changes but will assist in creating an inclusive and positive workplace culture. The Act means employers have a legal responsibility to prevent harassment in your organisation.

The changes are due to be implemented on 26 October 2024. To discuss this or for advice on a specific employment law issue, please feel free to email me or contact the team on 020 8858 6971.