Harassment by Third Parties

Gillian Cumming
30th Sep 2010

Statement issued by the regulator erlier today remainds all employers about changes to current law system.

Employment law time off work

From tomorrow employers are accountable and liable for third party harassment of its employees in particular circumstances.


Under previous legislation, only the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 offers a remedy against their employer to employees who suffer harassment from a third party. The Act allows employees to complain of unwanted conduct from a third party ‘on grounds of sex’ where the employer did not take steps to prevent that conduct.


Currently, there is no remedy against an employer where an employee has suffered harassment from a third party on a ground other than sex. Therefore, for example, if an employee suffered racial harassment from client today, it would be unlikely that employee's organisation could be held to be legally responsible for that harassment.


With the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 on 1 October 2010, the position will change radically. Employers will become accountable and liable for third party harassment of its employees in particular circumstances.


The new law will provide that employers can be held liable for the harassment of their employees by third parties in the course of their employment where the harassment relates to any of the protected characteristics of sex, gender reassignment, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or age. It does not, however, extend protection to the protected characteristics of marriage and civil partnership or pregnancy and maternity.


The employee will be able to claim against the employer if the following conditions are met:

  1. the harassment by the third party occurred in the course of their employment;
  2. harassment had occurred on at least two previous occasions, whether or not the harasser was the same third party; and
  3. the employer failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from happening again.
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