Equality Act Reforms to go ahead in October
The Government has confirmed that it will go ahead with reforms to discrimination laws announced under the Labour Government, and introduce the Equality Act as planned this October.
The Equality Act was passed during the Labour Government’s wash-up period, and brings together nine pieces of anti-discrimination legislation.
Before the General Election, the now Minister for Women and Equalities and Home Secretary, Theresa May, cast doubt that the legislation would be introduced, saying that many of the amendments would be too costly.
May has since said that implementing the Act to the planned timetable demonstrates the Government’s commitment to equality.
“By making the law easier to understand, the Equality Act will help business treat staff fairly and meet the needs of a diverse customer base,” she said.
However, some of the reforms due to be introduced in April 2011 are still being discussed by Government. For example, the ability for staff to claim dual discrimination which is anticipated to increase the number of claims by simplifying the process for employees.
Confederation of British Industry senior policy adviser, Nicola Walker, said that the Government should repeal this clause.
“The dual discrimination clause is disproportionately burdensome for small firms which do not have the resources to defend themselves at tribunals,” she said.
However, Walker welcomed new guidance to the Act which has been published by the Government.
“The guidance’s key message is that employers should not panic as much of the discrimination legislation will stay the same, so if they already treat people fairly and with respect, they should be covered,” she said.
The reforms being introduced under the Act this October include:
- The extension of direct discrimination to include associative discrimination and perceptive discrimination
- The extension of indirect discrimination to include protected groups it did not previously cover — for example, for the first time disabled employees can claim indirect discrimination if they feel a policy or practice that is applied to everyone puts them at a disadvantage
- Restrictions on the questions an employer can ask about a job candidate’s health
- Employers will no longer be able to restrict employees from talking about pay, if they are doing so to establish if there are gender pay inequalities
- The extension of harassment — employees can complain of harassment even when it is not directed at them
- For more information about the Equality Act, read Acas’s document The Equality Act – What’s New for Employers (PDF) and Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? from the Government Equalities Office.