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Tribunal rules third-party harassment must pertain to 'protected characteristic'

Workers can sometimes experience harassment from third parties such as clients or visitors, and it is the employer's duty to protect their employees in such cases. Failure to take reasonable steps to deal with third-party harassment of staff can leave employers open to tribunal claims.

Protection from third-party harassment was enshrined in law by the Equality Act 2010, which makes employers potentially liable for third-party harassment in circumstances where:

  • harassment has occurred on two previous occasions, not necessarily from the same third party
  • the employer is aware that this has happened
  • the employer has not taken reasonable steps to prevent it from happening again.

To date, few third-party harassment cases have come to tribunal and it remains to be seen how they will be handled in the long term. However, in a recent case which was dismissed at tribunal, the judge confirmed that acts of third-party harassment must relate specifically to a protected characteristic, such as age, disability, race, religion or belief and sex, setting a precedent for future claims.

Employers need to take steps to ensure that their harassment policies take into account protection from harassment from third parties. Acas provides training in dealing with bullying and harassment in the workplace and can help you develop effective solutions for your organisation. Acas also have produced the pdf icon Advice leaflet - Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers [172kb].

Visit the Acas training and business solutions area for more information.

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