Experts deny High Court’s ruling on sex discrimination and harassment will lead to claims rush

A High Court decision on sex discrimination and harassment law is unlikely to prompt a flood of tribunal claims from female employees, lawyers have said.

Last week, a judge ruled that the government had failed to properly apply a European directive that implements sex discrimination law in the UK. The judge told the government to make public how it planned to remedy the situation.

Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, was due to respond to the judgment yesterday (Monday).

Mr Justice Burton insisted that harassment laws must protect women not only from abusive managers and colleagues, but also from customers, clients and others. Women would be protected in any job where they encounter the public, in particular the bar, hotel and restaurant sectors.

The decision sparked fears that employers would witness a rush of harassment claims. But Barry Mordsley, partner at law firm Salans, said that was unlikely to happen.

“It has long been the case that employers are liable for actions by third parties. But the decision does reinforce that firms need to keep a careful watch on situations where staff might be vulnerable to harassment of any kind,” he said.

Employers should be proactive in tackling any problems as it would provide a sound defence to any claims, Mordsley said.

“If an employer shows that it regularly communicates with staff about their working environment, that can go a long way to demonstrating it has taken reasonable steps to tackle any problems.”

The High Court also said women must be protected by sex discrimination laws if denied certain benefits during maternity leave, such as being consulted about organisational change.

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