Lawyers have criticised the Government’s intention to “water down” discrimination law by removing legislation on third-party harassment, claiming the move is neither wanted nor needed by businesses.
Last week, the Government confirmed that it would repeal provisions in the Equality Act 2010 that make employers liable for harassment of their staff by third parties.
The Law Society rejected the removal of the provisions, saying that they were beneficial to employers.
Angharad Harris, chair of the Law Society’s employment law committee, explained that, under the Equality Act, an employer is not held responsible for the third-party harassment in itself, but for failing to act when it happens or for not taking steps to prevent it.
She said: “The benefit of the third-party harassment provisions is that they have encouraged best practice among employers and this, in turn, helps to reduce potential incidents of harassment at work.”
She added that the Equality Act’s prescribed discrimination questionnaires, which the Government is also removing, are a useful tool for businesses as well as employees.
“The questionnaire procedure can help employers because it encourages an employee to ask all of their questions at once, rather than through a series of informal questions, which make it harder for an employer,” Harris said. “Questionnaires also discourage those cases that have no merit.”
Andrew Crudge, solicitor at law firm Thomas Eggar, suggested that the move would not achieve much as the provisions are rarely used.
“The greater burden for businesses is the constant reshaping of employment laws, which requires new processes and training,” he said.
“Even with the change, employees may still be able to rely on other provisions in the Equality Act to protect them against third-party harassment.”
Full details of the changes to the Equality Act are available on XpertHR.