As we begin to look ahead to 2024, the Hibberts employment team can advise upon an important new employment law being implemented in October 2024, which is a new a statutory duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment by taking reasonable steps. The intent of the new law is safer and more inclusive workplaces, and employers will be legally obligated to take proactive measures within their organisations to address sexual harassment. Currently, whilst there is protection for employees, this is on a reactive basis after the fact, and the new legislation places the onus on employers to proactively foster an environment where such behaviour is not accepted.
What is the new Statutory Duty?
The upcoming statutory duty on employers is a part of the Government’s commitment to eradicating workplace harassment and ensuring all employees feel secure and respected. The new law’s primary focus is on prevention rather than reaction, and emphasises the responsibility of employers to create a culture that discourages harassment from taking root.
The Key Components of the Statutory Duty
There are several aspects to the new statutory duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment. The first of these is a requirement for the employer to conduct regular risk assessments to identify and address potential factors that may contribute to sexual harassment. These include evaluating the workplace culture, policies, and practices that may inadvertently foster an environment conducive to harassment.
The new legislation mandates that employers establish clear and comprehensive policies regarding sexual harassment. However, just having policies isn’t sufficient, and employers must ensure that all employees are aware of these and have easy access to reporting mechanisms. The communication and education of employees is a key part of ensuring awareness.
Employers will also need to implement robust training programmes to educate employees on what constitutes sexual harassment and also provide guidance on bystander intervention to create a collective responsibility for maintaining a harassment-free workplace.
The final aspect of the new statutory duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment is leadership and accountability. Leadership has a critical role in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, and the legislation is written with this in mind. It expects leaders to actively promote a culture of respect, set the tone for acceptable behaviour, and hold themselves and their teams accountable for maintaining a safe and inclusive workplace.
What does this mean for Employers?
This shift in legislation carries significant implications for employers. While it may place an additional administrative burden on some businesses, the long-term benefits are substantial. Employers who proactively address and prevent sexual harassment are likely to experience improved employee morale, increased productivity, and a more positive public image.
Implementing the new statutory duty may pose challenges for employers, particularly in terms of resource allocation and adapting existing policies. However, it is a great opportunity to enhance workplace culture, employee satisfaction and retention. Seeking legal and professional support, as well as using technology for aspects such as online training modules and confidential reporting, can assist in navigating the transition to the new measures more effectively and make complying with the new legislation more manageable for employers.
The introduction of the statutory duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment represents a transformative moment in the landscape of UK employment law. By prioritising prevention over reaction, the legislation aims to create workplaces where every individual can thrive without fear of harassment. As employers prepare for the upcoming changes, the Hibberts Employment Law Team in Crewe are here to help employers across Cheshire, Shropshire and beyond embrace this positive shift in the law and ensure compliance, so that workplaces that are safe, respectful, and conducive to the well-being of all employees. In addition to the implications of this new sexual harassment legislation, our specialist employment solicitors regularly advise upon all areas of employment law, for example settlement agreements, grievances, redundancy and discrimination. You can contact the team here for support.