An employer can be liable for discrimination, harassment or victimisation committed by an employee in the course of employment. However, there is a defence available if you can show that you took 'all reasonable steps' to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act or from doing anything of that description. But what is meant by 'reasonable steps'?

Examples of reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment

  • Having appropriate policies in place, including an equal opportunities policy; anti-harassment and bullying policy (and potentially a separate sexual harassment policy); and email, internet and social media policy (which covers discrimination and harassment issues);
  • Keeping these policies up-to-date and reviewing them regularly;
  • Implementing relevant policies effectively, for example by allocating responsibility for each one and monitoring effectiveness;
  • Making employees aware of relevant policies and procedures;
  • Making employees aware of the potential consequences of breaching these policies;
  • Managing grievances in line with equal opportunities and other relevant policies;
  • Dealing effectively with complaints, and taking appropriate disciplinary action in response to policy breaches;
  • Training managers and supervisors in equal opportunities and harassment issues; and
  • Adopting a zero-tolerance approach to objectionable language and behaviour.

In a case earlier this year, a supermarket chain was ordered to improve its training after being found liable for the sexual harassment of a member of staff. There had been a failure to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from happening. The employer was required to prepare a discrimination guide for line managers and employees; advise staff on how to deal with harassment; establish more effective training for its workforce; and provide regular reports to the Equality and Human Rights Commission on its progress.

Training and policy reviews

Think about whether your organisation has taken reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If not, consider what else you could be doing.

Brodies’ employment and immigration team can deliver bespoke online training, designed for employees, managers or HR professionals. We can also assist with policy review and development.

Workbox users can access a suite of template HR policies and training materials. If you are not currently a Workbox subscriber, and would like to find out more, please contact us to request a free trial.


Julie Keir

Practice Development Lawyer