Local Government Lawyer Home Page


Sharpe Edge Webpage Banner

Welcome to Sharpe Edge, Sharpe Pritchard’s local government legal hub on Local Government Lawyer.

Sharpe Edge features news, views and analysis from our team of specialist local government lawyers working at the heart of the latest legal developments. Sharpe Edge platform is also the only place where local government lawyers can get e-access to two law books by our Head of Local Government Rob Hann: The Guide to Local Authority Charging and Trading Powers (‘LACAT’) and The Guide to Local Authority Companies and Partnerships (‘LACAP’).

 

                                                                                                  

Slide background

Are you doing enough to promote equality and diversity in your workplace?

Julie Bann and Christian Grierson outline the law and report on the steps being taken by different organisations to promote equality and diversity in the workplace.

Icons Hazard

In the most recent Sharpe Minds Employment Forum we considered when an employer will be vicariously liable for the acts of an employee, how an employer can run an ‘all reasonable steps defence’ and finally a look at the proposed new obligation to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. This article outlines the law and reports on the steps being taken by different organisations to promote equality and diversity in the workplace.

Sharpe Minds

The Sharpe Minds Employment Forum is a series of employment roundtable breakfast meetings which are held monthly. Unlike a standard webinar they offer the opportunity to meet with senior peers and to discuss and share best practices, legal updates and discuss new initiatives. If you would like to attend future events, you can request the details of the upcoming events from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Liability and a Defence

An employer is vicariously liable for discriminatory acts carried out by one of its employees in the course of their employment. Even if the employer did not have knowledge of the acts or had not approved the actions, they may still be liable.

In determining what acts and circumstances an employer may be liable for, the key wording to consider is: ‘in the course of employment’. An Employment tribunal will adopt a common-sense approach as to whether the employee was acting in the course of their employment. This involves considering whether the discriminatory act took place on premises, during working hours, who else was present, if it was out of working hours and whether there remained a link with work. The straightforward examples are when one employee harasses another in the office this will almost always be covered but if an employee is abusive to another at a sports event on the weekend this is less likely to be covered.

The grey area is more in relation to social events that are attended by employees either in lunch breaks or immediately after work. The employer must be alive to the fact that such events could retain a sufficient link to be considered in the course of employment and as such the employer could be liable for any discriminatory conduct by its employees at such events.

The Defence

However, an employer can resist liability for acts of its employees if it can establish that it took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act.

To run an ‘all reasonable steps’ defence, the employer must demonstrate, that they had taken all sufficient measures before the act to prevent the discriminatory behaviour. The Tribunals have set a very high threshold which make it a  difficult defence to succeed on. It would only take a Claimant to highlight one additional step that would have been reasonable to take for the defence to fail. The key, therefore, is to have a carefully documented proactive approach to equality and diversity including but not limited to the following steps;

  • a policy and related procedures which is reviewed and revised regularly;
  • a comprehensive induction and regular refreshers for staff (especially when policies and revised) through supervision, appraisals or team meetings repeating the organisation’s zero tolerance approach; and
  • an effective process for staff to raise concerns and evidence that employees are listened to, and prompt action is taken.

What are organisations currently doing?

The participants in the Sharpe Minds event, agreed that equality and diversity was not a tick box exercise and inserting a policy into the staff handbook and providing some training is not an effective shield against liability for harassment and discriminatory practices.

We discussed the fact that all reasonable steps effectively means an organisation-wide response to promoting tolerance. This includes top-down promotion of new training, initiatives and policies as well as creating effective and accessible routes for employees to not only feed into policies but also to report concerns. While robustly investigating a complaint will not support a reasonable steps defence to that specific complaint, evidence that managers do recognise and take prompt action to stop discrimination, will be one measure in preventing future unacceptable behaviour. Swift action provides employees with reassurance that they will be listened to but will also support a defence for future claims.

Positive action among our participants included:

  • Partnering with external organisations and schemes such as the Disability Confident Scheme and Halo Collective to undertake staff consultation and surveys and acting on any recommendations.
  • Undertaking Equality Impact Assessments on all reports and policy and operating good structures for disseminating key information on revised or new policies throughout the organisation.
  • Creating an EDI Action Plan & consulting all Networks and collaborating on new policies or revising existing ones before they are finalised. A 360° review to get buy in.
  • Listening to stakeholders and being open to challenge and constructive feedback and importantly acting on it and updating employees on actions taken.
  • Ensuring that managers discuss equality and diversity at team meetings, one to one or appraisals as a fixed agenda item.
  • Considering blind recruitment practices and considering different platforms for advertising vacancies such as Instagram or linked in to attract wider diversity.
  • Requesting feedback on how confident staff are in raising concerns and ensuring that the format for raising concerns is accessible to all employees.
  • Positive discrimination practices if appropriate.

New Duty to Prevent Sexual Harassment

In summer 2021, the Government released its response to the sexual harassment consultation. The Government has confirmed that they intend to introduce a duty for employers to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment in their workplace. Crucially, under the new duty an employer could potentially be liable for failing to take these actions without the need for an incident to have occurred. If this becomes law, it could have major implications for employers.

If employers have already established the above proactive measures, they will have a solid platform to comply with the proposed duty.

We can provide the slides from the event together with an Equality and Diversity flowchart, which gives some guidance on how employees at each level of an organisation are accountable for or can engage in taking steps to prevent discrimination. If you would like these resources, then please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Julie Bann is a Partner and Christian Grierson is a Solicitor at Sharpe Pritchard LLP.


For further insight and resources on local government legal issues from Sharpe Pritchard, please visit the SharpeEdge page by clicking on the banner below.

sharpe edge 600x100

This article is for general awareness only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this page was first published. If you would like further advice and assistance in relation to any issue raised in this article, please contact us by telephone or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

LACAT BookFREE download!

A Guide to Local Authority Charging and Trading Powers

Written and edited by Sharpe Pritchard’s Head of Local Government, Rob Hann,

A Guide to Local Authority Charging and Trading Powers covers:

• Updated charging powers compendium          • Commercial trading options

• Teckal ‘public to public’                                    • Localism Act

FREE DOWNLOAD

LACAT BookAvailable to buy:

A Guide to Local Authority Companies and Partnerships

An invaluable, comprehensive toolkit for lawyers, law firms and others advising
on or participating in Local Authority Companies and Partnerships”

- Local Authority Chief Executive

BUY NOW

  More Articles

Icons House

A renewable future: focusing energy solutions at a local level

Natasha Barlow and Steve Gummer discuss the 'Energy Trilemma' and how it is playing out at a local level.
Icons Date

Procurement Bill – Initial impressions from the first draft

Juli Lau and Sophie Mcfie-Hyland outline their initial impressions from the first draft of the Procurement Bill.
Icons Hazard

Let’s paint the town green! Government plans for green homes

Laura Campbell discusses the change urgently needed in towns and cities to make the landscape greener.
Icons House

The Queen’s Speech in Brief

The number of Bills which affect public sector clients is greater than usual – and the government have got straight off the starting blocks by publishing some of them already.
Icons Hazard

Refurbishment and Retrofitting: In with the old, out with the new!

Sharpe Pritchard analyse the challenge of decarbonising the construction sector.
Icons House

NET ZERO – What obligations are there on the UK to achieve it?

Radhika Devesher takes a look at the legal duty to achieve net-zero placed upon the UK.
Icons House

Championing green goals through public buying

Juli Lau considers how public purchasing power can be used to champion Net Zero goals, and how public procurement might be used as another driver for change.
Icons Hazard

Top Tips for Local Authority Lawyers advising on Data Protection Matters

Charlotte Smith and Hannah Peto set out some of their top tips to consider when advising on data protection matters.
Icons Court

The Cost of Freedom of Information – The Council’s Failure to Advise

Charlotte Smith and Nadia Ahmed summarise the case and judgement of Moss v Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames and another (NJ/2018/007).
Rob Hann Photoshop

Ask the Author

These are frequently asked questions to Rob Hann from colleagues in Local Government via the Sharpe Pritchard ‘Ask-the-Author' facility concerning the subject matter of his books on local authority companies, partnerships, charging and trading.
Icons Court

A call to review public contracts with Russian suppliers

Juli Lau and Gonzalo Puertas discuss the first official document to consider public sector contracts with companies linked to the Russian and Belarusian state regimes, issued by the Cabinet Office.
Icons Date

A New NEC Option to tackle greenwashing in the construction industry

Allan Owen and Sophie Drysdale discuss 'greenwashing' in the construction industry and a new secondary option clause X29 for its NEC4 suite of contracts developed by NEC.
Icons House

The Pathway to the Future – The Road Map for Employment Tribunals

David Leach discusses and outlines the road map of the planned changes for modernising the Tribunals in 2022 and 2023 released by The Presidents of the Employment Tribunals.
Icons House

Farrar Out

Clare Mendelle and James Goldthorpe discuss how the insolvency of Farrar Construction leads to clarity from the Courts on dealing with an insolvent contractor under JCT.
Icons House

The UK government has this week introduced the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill

Peter Collins and Sophie Pilcher discuss the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill introduced by the UK Government this week.
Icons Hazard

A sweet truth for selectivity

Steve Gummer and Gonzalo Puertas discuss a case that concerns an application for judicial review seeking to challenge a decision to introduce a zero-duty autonomous tariff quota (“ATQ”) of 260,000 metric tonnes of raw cane sugar for refining.
Icons House

Adjudication 101: Introduction and Overview

Michael Comba traces the origins of adjudication and considers why the process was introduced, who it is aimed towards and how construction contracts must include certain provisions.
Icons Date

New Government Guidance on PFI Expiry

Rob Hann, Head of Local Government at Sharpe Pritchard, takes a look at new guidance on PFI expiry recently published by the IPA to help public bodies wrestle with the complexities of transition they will face as these contracts reach full term.
Icons Hazard

Three new Levels to ‘level up’ Local Government in England?

Rob Hann, Sharpe Pritchard’s Head of local government, takes a look at the new proposals under the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper to facilitate devolution to remaining regions of local government in England which are currently without a Mayoral Combined Authority.
Icons Hazard

Will employers still be able to use the practice of ‘fire and rehire’ in 2022?

Christian Grierson and Julie Bann discuss a recent case in which the High Court has granted an injunction preventing Tesco from using the controversial employment practice of ‘fire and rehire’.
Icons Hazard

Progress on Climate Change action plans in Local Government

Stephen Cirell discusses the progress on climate change and renewable energy action plans within Local Government.
<a href=

Witches’ hats, sexist comments, and a £2 million pay-out

Julie Bann and Christian Grierson discuss a case in which a finance specialist has won over £2 million in compensation, after claims of sex discrimination and unequal pay.
Icons Hazard

Stuck in traffic?

High Court rules “VIP Lanes” For PPE contracts breached fundamental procurement law principles, in latest Judicial Review victory for the Good Law Project.
<a href=

Local Authority Sports and Leisure provision – Challenges Post-Covid19

With the unique circumstances posed by the Covid 19 pandemic and temporary closures of Council-sponsored sports and leisure facilities, Rob Hann, Sharpe Pritchard’s Head of Local Government outlines some of the challenges the sector faces.
<a href=

Bucking the Trend on Specific Performance Buckinghamshire Council v FCC Buckinghamshire Limited

Clare Mendelle and James Hughes highlight the wide definition of Third-Party Income and the measures the courts are prepared to take to enforce the terms of longstanding contracts, by analysing the Buckinghamshire Council v FCC Buckinghamshire Limited case.
<a href=

The Government’s response to the Transforming Public Procurement consultation: what will change and what will not?

Juli Lau, Colin Ricciardiello, Beth Edwards and Natasha Barlow analyse the Government’s response to the Transforming Public Procurement consultation.
<a href=

Momentum for Heat Network Roll Out Gathers Pace

Steve Gummer discusses the increased momentum for a Heat Network Rollout.
Icons Hazard

Unconscious Bias, Discrimination and a Warning to Public Sector Employers

Christian Grierson and Julie Bann discuss two employment tribunal judgements, which provide a stark warning to public sector employers about unconscious bias and discrimination.
Icons Hazard

Levelling up – A new opportunity for further devolution in England?

Rob Hann explores the Government's 'levelling up' policy and looks at whether it is an opportunity for further devolution in England.
<a href=

Time limits for commencing proceedings in procurement challenges

Colin Ricciardiello discusses a landmark procurement challenge judgment on the time limit for commencing proceedings.
Icons Hazard

The Revised National Planning Policy Framework: Better design, greener outcomes?

Alastair Lewis and Sarah Wertheim outline the latest National Planning Policy Framework changes and explain how future developments will be impacted by the new rules.
Slide background