If employers didn’t think that they already had enough obligations towards employees it looks like yet another one is coming down the road. The Government has announced its intention to introduce a duty to prevent sexual harassment and third party harassment and what’s more is intending to lengthen the time period which employees have to bring any claim pursuant to the Equality Act.
The likelihood is that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will introduce a code of practice which employers will be required to comply with. There is likely to be Government guidance in addition. There will be a defence in relation to an employer’s failure to comply with the duty. For a claim to be brought the employee would have to show that there has in fact been some harassment. The defence is on the basis that the employer has taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment of its employees by both its own employees and third parties dealing with its employees. The standard of ‘all reasonable steps’ is very high and in practice it will be difficult for employers to successfully make out this defence.
It looks as if employees will be given a period of 6 months from the date of a discriminatory act to bring a claim rather than the current 3 months. On the face of it this is more concerning news for employers. However, in some cases it will give an employer a greater length of time to deal with any issues arising, for example in addressing grievances or resolving the matter through mediation or other means.