Publish date

19 December 2023

New law to prevent sexual harassment at work due to come into force

New legislation will be introduced in 2024 to require employers to take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are already liable for sexual harassment committed by employees at work. Under the new law employers will have to show that they took reasonable steps to prevent harassment occurring. Failure to do could result in compensation being increased by 25%.

The new law follows promises made by the Government to address sexual harassment, amid concern about the troubling levels of sexual harassment in the workplace.

It imposes a mandatory duty on employers of all sizes to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers who satisfy this duty will have a defence to a sexual harassment claim.

Employees will be able to bring claims for breach of the new duty in the Employment Tribunal, but this will not be a free-standing claim. Employees will be required to demonstrate that this claim is ‘attached’ to a claim for sexual harassment.

Employers who lose claims of sexual harassment face the prospect of compensation being increased by up to 25% where they cannot show that they took reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment occurring. The duty can also be enforced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

What can employers do to ensure compliance with the new sexual harassment duty?

The scope of the law has been narrowed following its passage through the House of Lords. Originally, it sought to require employers to take ‘all reasonable steps’. This has been amended to require employers to ‘take reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment of employees.

Still, the key difference compared to the current law is that employers have to be proactive rather than reactive.What steps need to be taken will vary depending upon the size of the workforce, nature of the work and place of work, amongst many other things Employers should consider:

  • Identifying particular risk areas, so measures can be targeted correctly. For example anonymous staff surveys could be used to understand employees’ views on the culture of the organisation
  • Implementing policies regarding reporting sexual harassment and outlining disciplinary measures for perpetrators
  • Have ‘workplace champions’ who are trained to support individuals who have been harassed and can support them through the complaints procedure
  • Establishing a confidential reporting procedure for any incidents of sexual harassment
  • Introducing or refreshing training for all employees on anti-harassment practices in the workplace.

Employers should always think proactively about any further steps that could be taken to prevent instances of sexual harassment. Training that was completed some time ago or policies that are not enforced consistently are unlikely to be deemed as ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment by an Employment Tribunal.

This new duty will apply only to sexual harassment, being ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’. It will not apply to harassment based on any other protected characteristic, for instance age, religion or race. It applies equally to harassment of men and women.

The original version of the new law sought to extend the duty on employers to include protecting employees from sexual harassment by third parties, such as clients and suppliers. However this provision was removed from the final version due to concern about the regulatory burden on employers.

The new rules are expected to come into force in October 2024. Employers should consider what measures they may implement ahead of this, to ensure that they are compliant with the changes.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything in this article please speak to one of the employment team on

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