Friday, October 01, 2010

Equality Act 2010 Comes Into Force

In keeping with the practice of bringing into force new employment laws on 1st April and 1st October only, the majority of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 come into effect today.

The Act is intended to codify the existing legislation on discrimination and iron out discrepancies that had arisen in relation to the legal treatment of different types of discrimination.

The definition of direct discrimination is altered so that this applies where someone is discriminated against "because" of e.g. sex rather than "on grounds of" it. The Act makes clear that (save in relation to marital/civil partnership status) discriminating against someone because they are perceived to have a protected characteristic (e.g. are wrongly perceived to be gay) or because they are associated with someone with a protected characteristic (e.g. because they are the carer for a disabled person) is unlawful.

One change likely to affect employers on a day to day basis is the restriction on asking questions about health, including disability, before a job offer is made except in specified circumstances. You may need to look at your Job Application forms and the questions you ask at interview to ensure you do not fall foul of this.

The Act also provides for a number of changes that have not yet been brought into force. One is provision for claims based on combinations of discrimination - for example it is now unlawful to treat someone less favourably because they are a black woman (i.e. where a white woman and a black man would have been treated differently.) Whilst this development has been heralded it does seem rather unlikely that it will be one that leads to an explosion in litigation if and when it is introduced.

Perhaps the most controversial provisions that are still "pending" are those which provide for private sector employers to be compelled to carry out gender pay audits and that which permits positive action in very limited circumstances with regards to recruitment and promotion. Neither of these are very "Tory" sounding policies but whether the effect of coalition politics will be to get these into law remains to be seen.