Employers’ liability for third party harassment had been incorporated into the Equality Act 2010 (section 40(2)-(4)).

However, these sections were specifically removed three years later by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (introduced by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government under Prime Minister David Cameron) – which sought to reduce ‘legislative burdens’ on employers.

The issue of whether employers should be vicariously liable for the behaviour of customers or clients has remained a live one.  It came to media prominence in 2018 with the scandal surrounding the men-only President’s Club dinner in London, which was exposed by the Financial Times and investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) following reports of the treatment of hostesses.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee conducted an inquiry into Sexual harassment in the workplace in 2018, highlighting and criticising the gaps in the law. Following its own consultation, the UK Government committed to ‘introducing explicit protections from third party harassment’.

In June 2022 Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse introduced a private member’s bill in Parliament to create new legal liabilities for employers in relation to third party harassment and in the form of a duty to ‘take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment’ of their employees. Initially supported by all parties, it passed through the Commons but was amended in the House of Lords, with the clause on employers’ third party liability removed. The Worker Protection Bill will become law before the end of 2023, bringing in a new preventative duty but not third party protections. The Fawcett Society has committed to press for further legislation.

Wera Househouse MP. Image: David Woolfall, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons