Currently, an employer can be vicariously liable to an employee if a third party harasses its employee in the course of employment and the employer knew of at least 2 previous occasions of harassment by a third party (even if the third party was a different person) and the employer failed to take reasonable steps to prevent that harassment.
Following a decision in the case of Equal Opportunities Commission v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry the High Court agreed that there was nothing in the Equal Treatment Directive that required the UK to impose vicarious liability on an employer in relation to third party harassment nor that there was evidence of a significant need for such protection. Despite this it was written into the Equality Act and the government now seek its removal. The government's view is that removing the provision would not leave employees unprotected.
The consultation is to enable the government to establish whether, and if so, to what extent third-party harassment takes place at work and how it has been dealt with. Responses need to be provided by 7th August 2012.
The government believes that existing legislation already affords employees adequate protection through health and safety laws, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and constructive dismissal law. Further the government believes employees would still be able to rely on the general harassment provisions of the Equality Act (s26 (1)) for protection without the need for the specific sections relating to third-party harassment.
Regardless of uncertainty if the provisions are removed employees are still likely to rely on a claim for general harassment under the Equality Act and so it will still be imperative that employers have in place effective policies of dealing with third party harassment".
For further information please contact Alexandra Dean of Gepp & Sons on 01245 228141 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.