FRONT PAGE: Sexual harassment laws are threat to agencies

A top employment lawyer is warning PR agencies that they could face unlimited damages if they fail to protect employees from sexual harassment, under new laws coming into force this week.

Changes to existing employment laws mean emp­loyers can be responsible for rep­eated sexual harassment encountered by staff from clients, suppliers and other third parties.

The change could hit the PR ind­ustry hard. Staffers sent to handle clients who ‘sexually harass' them - a term that covers a wide range of offences - can now sue the person sexually harassing them, as well as the agency who sent them there.

‘These changes should not be underestimated - every member of staff is now protected from sexual harassment by anyone they meet as part of their work with third parties,' said HLW Commercial Lawyers partner Joan Pettingill. ‘Bosses will be expected to protect their staff from harassment - or face being held liable themselves.'

Significantly, the employee does not have to resign to bring an action and if successful there is no limit on compensation.

‘The courts will not accept protecting a major contract as a defence,' added Pettingill.

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