Backlash over ‘draconian’ law allowing staff to sue employers if offended by customers

6th April 2023

Rishi Sunak has backed a Private Member’s Bill – the Worker’s Protection Bill (Amendment to the Equality Act 2010) – which, if enacted, will allow workers to sue their employers if they are harassed or offended by a third party such as a member of the public.

The legal definition of harassment is based on the fact that if a person does something which violates another’s dignity or causes or has the effect of causing an insulting, offensive, humiliating, degrading environment for the other, and that person possesses a protected characteristic (for example, sex, race or religion) there could be a potential claim which could be made in the Employment Tribunal.

Should this Private Member’s Bill receive Royal Assent, employers would then be responsible for actions of third parties. However, it is clear that there is scope for abuse, manipulation of claims, freedom of speech issues, and adopting a “police state” attitude toward individuals’ opinions.

As ex-minister Sir Christopher Chope opined, there are concerns over how this law could be abused. For instance, a rival pub “planting” a third-party to cause a disturbance in order to tie them up in litigation.

Expanding on Sir Chope’s comments, how will employers know that the grievances submitted by their employees or workers are genuine? Perhaps they are manufactured in order to facilitate a “cash-grab” from their employer.

The question is how will employers comply with this law without upsetting both staff and customers alike? Will they need to monitor and police each conversation that their customers have?

We are potentially veering into freedom of speech issues, a topic that has recently been in the press and a subject that my colleague, Razi Mireskandari, recently covered in his article (see below).

There must be some defences for an employer to deploy in these circumstances.  Perhaps the complainant must show the comment was directed toward them and how they were affected by the comment.

It is an interesting development and SMB’s employment team will be monitoring this proposed legislation closely.

If you feel this law may affect you and want some advice on how to prepare for it contact for further information.