Employees responsible for sexually harassing colleagues could face hefty compensation bills following a ruling by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
In the past an employer has shouldered the responsibility of any compensation claims but in a recent case, Way & Introcate Chemicals v Crouch, the EAT stated it is was proper to make both the employer and the person who had carried out the harassment liable for the full amount of compensation on a joint basis.
Sarah Whitemore, employment partner at law firm Warnergoodman Commercial, said the new ruling could provide a deterrent for potential harassers and reduce the compensation bills often faced by employers in discrimination claims.
"Until this decision, the law relating to sexual harassment meant employers could face bills for thousands of pounds for the actions of their staff, while the person who did the act or acts of harassing their colleagues would often get away with it," said Whitemore.
"They might have been ordered to pay a few hundred, possibly £500 or so, for their part in the case but the employer would be left to pick up the rest.
"Now it looks as if employers will be able to ask the tribunals to be tougher on harassers and to make them equally responsible for paying compensation."
The new approach is also likely to prove popular with employees bringing sexual harassment cases.
"Often the people who bring these claims really want to see the person responsible for harassing punished, rather than the employer," said Whitemore.
"This also means that if the employer's company has been made insolvent the complainant can sue the harasser for the full amount of compensation.
"This is also likely to prove a very interesting development for employers, particularly as more claims are starting to be made on the grounds of religious belief or sexual orientation."