Mr Bessong, a black mental health nurse, sustained a significant facial injury during an attack by a patient. Although the NHS Trust’s incident report form made no mention of racism, it later emerged that the patient had a history of racist behaviour towards black members of staff.
The EAT ruled that the NHS Trust was not liable for the racial harassment of Mr Bessong by a patient, because its failure to take adequate steps to prevent racial harassment in the workplace was not related to race.
There was some controversy around the removal of the third-party harassment provisions from the Equality Act, particularly in light of the extent of third-party sexual harassment at work that has come to light under the #MeToo movement, and it seems likely that employer’s liability for harassment by third parties will be re-introduced at some stage.
Regardless of whether this may change in the future, there are a number of steps that employers can take to help tackle harassment of their staff by third parties, including:
- having a well-publicised harassment policy, that makes clear that allegations of harassment of staff by third parties will be taken seriously and appropriate action taken in relation to them
- ensuring that managers and HR are trained on how to deal with allegations of harassment so that they are addressed effectively and handled sensitively for everyone concerned
- setting the right tone and culture in your organisation, so that employees feel able to raise concerns and everyone understands what behaviour is appropriate and acceptable.
For a detailed update on this decision, see Will third-party harassment laws be strengthened? If so, what will this mean for employers? https://www.clydeco.com/blog/the-hive/article/will-third-party-harassment-laws-be-strengthened-if-so-what-will-this-mean
Bessong v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5da9d3f140f0b659831e099c/Mr_Colleridge_Bessong_v_Pennine_Care_NHS_Foundation_Trust_UKEAT_0247_18_JOJ.pdf