This is something we will be hearing a lot more about over the next few months and years. At last the government has introduced legislation that seeks to rationalise the current miasma of anti-discrimination legislation and bring it all into one piece of legislation.
At the moment, in the workplace environment, six types of discrimination are outlawed – age, race, sex (gender), sexual orientation, religious belief and disability. Each piece of legislation behind each type is different in certain respects so a new Act that contains all the relevant definitions, duties and defences is to be welcomed. Whether, in practice, the Equality Act (if it gets that far) will be is another matter. Undoubtedly it will change as it goes through Parliament but here are the current headlines
1. The Secretary of State will be given power to order employers with more than 25o employees to publish information about male and female pay levels, with a view to thus highlighting discrepancies in pay between the sexes. This won’t be enforced for at least the next four years though.
2. Secrecy clauses in employment contracts forbidding staff discussing their pay and bonuses (what’s a bonus?) will be outlawed.
3. Associative discrimination will be made illegal. This means that, as in a recent case, a carer of a disabled person is dismissed because of her caring obligations, she will be able to claim disability discrimination even though she is not herself disabled.
4. There will be new definitions of indirect discrimination and disability discrimination.
5. Positive discrimination at recruitment in favour of disadvanteged groups will be allowed when the candidates are otherwise equally matched.
6. Public bodies also have duties imposed upon them to promote equality.
The Bill has been mooted for some time now and it will be interesting to see how much survives the scrutiny of Parliament, especially at a time when the economy is in deep recession. Many employers, no doubt, will not relish having additional burdens placed upon them by government.