Laws requiring employers to protect staff from harassment by third parties could be removed from the Equality Act under government proposals.

The move forms part of plans to simplify laws governing equality in the workplace, which ministers claim will help to remove the burden of red tape on businesses.

Currently, under the Equality Act 2010, employers can be held liable if a third party harasses one of their employees and the organisation has failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

But in a public consultation launched this week, the government is proposing removing the third party harassment law from the Act, alongside proposals to streamline the employment tribunal process and reform the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Home secretary and minister for women and equalities Theresa May commented: “Bureaucracy and prescription are not routes to equality. Over-burdening businesses benefits no one, and real change doesn’t come from telling people what to do.

“Today’s announcement strikes the right balance between protecting people from discrimination and letting businesses get on with the job.”

However, Bar Huberman, employment law editor at XpertHR, warned that employers will still need to put in place measures to prevent third-party harassment even if the law is scrapped.

Speaking to Personnel Today, he commented: “While the government’s proposals to repeal the third-party harassment provisions under the Equality Act 2010 may be welcomed by some employers, there is still potential for employers to be liable where an employee is harassed by a third party, for example where the employer has control over the third party or the employee makes a personal injury claim.”

Other reforms being proposed by the government include the much-anticipated repealing of ‘socio-economic duty’ legislation, which requires public bodies to consider the affect policies would have on income inequality.

The government also plans to significantly slash the budget and workforce of the EHRC.

“Since its creation the Equality and Human Rights Commission has struggled to deliver across its remit and has not demonstrated good value for money,” said equalities minister Lynne Featherstone.

“Our reforms will provide it with a stronger focus and make it more accountable, helping it become the valued and respected national institution it was always intended to be.”