Change in harassment law could see rise in hospitality staff suing employers

05 April 2023 by
Change in harassment law could see rise in hospitality staff suing employers

A proposed change in the law could see a rise in hospitality staff suing their employers if they are harassed by customers at work.

The Worker Protection Bill will make it a legal requirement for firms to take "all reasonable steps" to prevent their staff from being abused by third parties such as customers, contractors and suppliers.

A separate clause would put a duty on bosses to protect staff from sexual harassment.

It means employees could take legal action against their employers if they fail to do so and may be entitled to additional compensation.

The Amendment to the Equality Act 2010 has already made it through several House of Commons sittings and was waved through without a vote on 31 March.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls tweeted that the trade body had raised concerns about the scope of the bill and its "unforeseen consequences".

"While we support measures to address sexual harassment and protect teams, the widening of scope – with very limited consultation and scrutiny – is concerning," she wrote.

Legal experts told The Caterer a change in the law could see hospitality employers face a rise in compensation claims.

Louise Attrup, partner and head of employment law at law firm Debenhams Ottaway, said bar and restaurant staff could take legal action against employers if they were "offended or pestered by drunk customers".

She added: "This will have big implications for hospitality sector employers, who could be drawn into costly legislation if they are unable to prove that they have proactively taken steps to prevent harassment, even in the case of a one-off [or] unforeseen incident."

Malcolm Gregory, a partner in the employment team at law firm RWK Goodman, said the bill would allow staff to call out "bad behaviour".

"Employees can feel pressured to turning a blind eye to unwanted conduct in order to keep the customer happy," said Gregory. "In sectors where the actions of third parties are difficult to predict or manage, we could well see an increase in claims."

The bill, which was put forward by a Liberal Democrat MP and peer, will now move to the committee stage before a third reading in the Commons. The Telegraph reports that several Conservative MPs have since raised concerns about the implications of the bill on businesses.

Gregory advised hospitality employers to review their operations, update training and reinforce existing anti-harassment policies ahead of any possible change in the law.

"If organisations are clear about what is expected of their staff it will not only help to reduce inappropriate behaviour but also ensure that where it happens, employees have a clear path to follow to deal with it," he said.

Photo: Ben Black/Unsplash

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