The Law Society has warned that removing certain provisions from the Equality Act will not help employers. The warning comes after the government published a series of amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.
The amendments, to be considered in the report stage of the Bill, abolish the Equality Act provisions on third party harassment (which make an employer liable for failing to act where their employee has been harassed by a third party) and the use of claimant questionnaires in discrimination claims.
The Law Society has highlighted the fact that these provisions can in fact be beneficial to employers as well as employees.
Under S40 of the Equality Act an employer is not held responsible for the third party’s actions in themselves, but for failing to act where they have been told of the harassment; when it has happened on at least two previous occasions; and where the employer has not taken such steps as would have been reasonably practicable to prevent the harassment.
“Harassment is unacceptable in any workplace,” says Chair of the Law Society Employment Law Committee Angharad Harris. “The benefit of the third party harassment provision was that it has encouraged best practice amongst employers and this in turn helps to reduce potential incidents of harassment at work.”
“The questionnaire procedure can also 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 than if they had been raised all at once.
“Questionnaires also discourage those cases that have no merit.”
The Law Society says that business concerns could have been addressed through better guidance on how to deal with third party harassment and how to answer questionnaires.
Angharad Harris added: “Most employers want to do the right thing, and want clear advice to understand how employment law affects them.”
When in doubt, the Law Society advises employers to get in touch with their local solicitor.