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Thursday, 25 April 2024 17:48

Preparing for the Worker Protection Act

We’ve already covered the topic of employer responsibilities regarding protection against sexual harassment in previous blogs and at our Employment Law Updates. However, with the Workers Protection Act 2023 due for implementation in October, and in light of a number of live cases that we’re handling, we think it deserves another mention.

To re-iterate; the new legislation aims to enhance protections against sexual harassment in the workplace; reinforcing the responsibilities of employers to create a safe and respectful work environment. Under the vicarious liability guidelines, employers could be held responsible for the actions of their employees unless they can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to prevent harassment occurring in the first place. Simply re-acting to cases as they arise will not be enough.

Failure to comply with the new regulations could lead to severe consequences for businesses. Should a claim of sexual harassment arise, and the employer is found not to have taken adequate preventive measures, the business could face significant legal and financial penalties. Additionally, tribunals will have the option to increase compensation awards by 25% where employers are at fault.

Furthermore, beyond the immediate legal repercussions, there could be substantial damage to the company’s reputation and employee trust, which can often be more challenging to restore.

With the bill's implementation, it becomes even more critical for employers to examine their current workplace policies and training programmes. Addressing and mitigating against the risks of sexual harassment occurring should be high on the agenda for all businesses.

Inappropriate behaviour from employees may have been overlooked or ignored in the past; played down as 'banter,’ or even accepted. Such attitudes will not be acceptable under the new law. Employers will need to ensure that all employees understand what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and that ignorance is not an excuse for non-compliance.

The new Act will be live in just over six months, so knowing how long it can sometimes take to make changes in organisations and how difficult it can be to organise and arrange staff for training, employers should be taking action now. We recommend a number of key actions:

  • Review and Update Policies: Employers should thoroughly review their current harassment and bullying policies to ensure they are robust, clear, and compliant with the new law. Policies should explicitly state that so-called 'banter' is not an excuse for inappropriate behaviour and outline the consequences for those who breach the policy.

  • Policy Implementation: Updating your policies won’t be enough. You’ll need to ensure that policy changes or new policies are briefed in to all members of staff. This could be done by line managers but ensure there is a consistent approach. Have employees sign something to say the have been briefed and understand the policies.

  • Training and Awareness: Regular training sessions for all employees, including management, is crucial. Training should cover what constitutes harassment, the company's policies on handling such issues, and the legal implications. Training should be recurrent to maintain awareness.

  • Establish Clear Reporting Mechanisms: It should be easy and safe for employees to report incidents of harassment without fear of retaliation. Establishing multiple channels for reporting and ensuring these are confidential can encourage victims to come forward and demonstrate your commitment to creating a safe working environment.

  • Foster an Inclusive Culture: Cultivating a workplace culture that promotes respect and inclusion can prevent issues of harassment. Leaders should model appropriate behaviour and address any inappropriate actions swiftly and decisively.

The Worker Protection Act is a reminder of the ongoing evolution of workplace standards and employer responsibilities. By taking swift and positive action now, businesses can not only comply with new regulations but also enhance their workplace culture, making it safer and more inclusive for everyone. These steps are not just about avoiding legal repercussions—they're about building a better, more respectful work environment that benefits all.

You don’t want yours to be the organisations that hits the headlines with revelations of shocking sexual harassment taking place. We can support with policy reviews and implementation and with staff training, in particular our Dignity at Work training. Call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  

Read 1025 times Last modified on Thursday, 25 April 2024 17:59

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