The Equality Act
The Equality Act comes into force on 1st October 2010, this will seek to provide clarity and be more effective at dealing with discrimination issues.
This new single legal framework is not an attempt to change current discrimination laws but instead is a means to harmonise and extend the existing laws in place. By having a single Equality Act, the present position will hopefully be simplified through the merging of the following pieces of legislation:
- Equal Pay Act 1970
- Sex Discrimination Act 1975
- Race Relations Act 1995
- Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003
- Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003
- Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2003
- Equality Act 2006, Part 2
- Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007
Below are some of the fundamental issues that employers are likely to face.
Pre-employment health related checks:
Under the Act, prior to offering a job to an individual, an employer will not be allowed to ask health related questions to candidates during the application process. However there are certain situations whereby an employer can ask such questions, in order to help them to decide:
- Whether they need to make any reasonable adjustments for the candidate during the selection process
- Whether an applicant can carry out a function that is essential to the job
- Monitor the diversity among people making applications for jobs
- Take positive action to assist disabled people
Employment Tribunal Powers:
Previously, where an employer had been found to be accountable for an act of discrimination, a Tribunal could only make recommendations for the employer to reduce or eradicate the effect of discrimination on the claimant. Under the Equality Act, Tribunals will have the power to make recommendations to an employer to reduce or eradicate the effect of discrimination on other employees as well.
Where an employee’s employment contract stipulates that details of their pay must be kept a secret, their employer will no longer be able to rely on this contractual term. The Act will make it unlawful for employers to prohibit their employees from discussing pay differences within the workplace. This will effectively render such contractual terms as unenforceable. Although employers will not be able to restrict employees from discussing pay within the workplace, they are still under a duty to keep pay details confidential from individuals outside of the workplace.
Third party harassment:
The Act could make employers liable for the harassment of their employees by third parties (those individuals who are not employees of the organisation) such as clients or customers. However employers will only be held liable where:
- Harassment has taken place on more than two prior occasions;
- They are aware that is has occurred; and
- They have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it occurring again
In light of these key additions to discrimination law, employers may need to review and change their policies and practices. Ways in which employers may be required to do this are as follows:
- Updating the wording of employment contracts and discrimination policies and procedures
Educating and Training Staff:
Employers will need train their staff as to how the Equality Act operates. Aside from factoring in the cost and methods of staff training, employers will need to ensure that any policies are implemented effectively. Ways in which this can be done is by publicising the policy in the workplace via notice boards, handbooks, staff meetings and email notifications. Staff may need to be sent on courses or attend training days; such methods of training will show that as an employer, you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination.
Staff will also need to be trained in terms of how to monitor and record the organisations practices and activities in relation to a variety of aspects, to ensure that these are compliant with the Equality Act. Aspects which employers may wish to monitor in particular are: sickness absence, training and health and safety.
These are just some of the ways in which you may need to prepare for, ahead of the change taking place on 1st October 2010. If you have any further enquires as to how the new legislative framework will affect your business, please contact our Employment Department.
Raj Dhokia: firstname.lastname@example.org