The Government launched a consultation yesterday on plans to repeal provisions in the Equality Act 2010 that make employers liable for the harassment of the staff by a third party, such as a customer or a client, on the grounds that employers have “no direct control” over such harassment.

The Home Office is seeking the views, by post or e-mail, of business and employers’ organisations, trades unions, equality organisations and individuals involved in employment.  The consultation closes on August 7 2012 and the Government intends to publish its response within three months of the end of the consultation period.

The consultation was originally planned to be published in September last year but the it was decided to postpone publication until the assessment of the spotlight on equalities under the Red Tape Challenge, which looked at the provisions in the Equality Act 2010 more broadly, had been completed.

Speaking of the announcement, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Bureaucracy and prescription are not routes to equality. Overburdening businesses benefits no one and real change doesn’t come from telling people what to do. (This) announcement strikes the right balance between protecting people from discrimination and letting businesses get on with the job.”

With the repeal of the provisions estimated to save businesses up to £300,000 per year, Neil Carberry, director for employment at the CBI said he thought that employers would broadly welcome the consultation.

However, Bar Huberman, employment law editor at XpertHR added the caveat that employers would still need to have measures in place to prevent third-party harassment if the provisions are repealed, saying:

“… there is still potential for employers to be liable where an employee is harassed by a third party, for example where the employer has control over the third party or the employee makes a personal injury claim.”