UK: Equality Bill Published Today

Last Updated: 29 April 2009
Article by Anthony Fincham and Sarah Ozanne

Harriet Harman today published the Equality Bill which is planned to take effect from Autumn 2010. It will replace the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, much of the Equality Act 2006, the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (where applicable, as subsequently amended), plus other ancillary pieces of legislation.

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Harriet Harman today published the Equality Bill which is planned to take effect from Autumn 2010. It will replace the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, much of the Equality Act 2006, the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (where applicable, as subsequently amended), plus other ancillary pieces of legislation.

Although most of the current discrimination legislation will still apply, the Equality Bill will change our equality law by:

  • Introducing a new public sector duty to consider reducing socio-economic inequalities
  • Putting a new Equality Duty on public bodies
  • Using public procurement to improve equality
  • Banning age discrimination outside the workplace
  • Introducing gender pay reports
  • Extending the scope to use positive action
  • Strengthening the powers of employment tribunals
  • Protecting carers from discrimination
  • Offering new mothers stronger protection when breastfeeding
  • Banning discrimination in private clubs
  • Strengthening protection from discrimination for disabled people

The following issues are most likely to affect private sector businesses as employers:

Gender pay reports

The Bill contains a power to require reporting on the gender pay gap by employers with 250 or more employees. However the Government has committed not to use this power before 2013 and it will only be used if sufficient progress on reporting has not been made. The Equality and Human Rights Commission will develop a set of metrics for gender pay reports in consultation with business, unions and others over the summer. The Commission will monitor progress on reporting within the private sector annually.

Positive action

The Equality Bill will allow employers to choose to take positive action to appoint a person from an under-represented group, provided candidates are equally suitable, if they want to. However, the most (equal) suitable person must still get the job and the merit principle still applies.

The Government press release makes it clear that positive action will be optional and there will be no quotas.

Positive discrimination (employing someone because of a characteristic regardless of merit) will remain illegal.

Strengthening employment tribunals

Employment tribunals can currently make recommendations to organisations to improve work practices - but only in relation to the individual who brought a case, who often ends up leaving employment anyway.

The Equality Bill will allow tribunals to make wider recommendations to firms, which can benefit everybody in the workforce and help prevent similar types of discrimination happening again.

Protecting Carers From Discrimination

It is currently unlawful to discriminate against or harass someone because they are 'linked to' or 'associated with' a person who is of another sexual orientation, race, or religion or belief (e.g. if an employer discriminates against an employee because she is married to an Asian man that will be unlawful).

The Equality Bill will extend this to age, disability, sex, or gender reassignment. For example, an employer could not refuse to promote a member of staff just because he cares for an older relative or a disabled person.

Procurement

The Equality Bill will make it clear that public bodies can use procurement to further equality objectives when they are buying goods and services from private sector firms. This will be consulted on over the summer.

For example, a council commissioning a construction project for a social regeneration scheme could require the contractor to run a positive action programme to train women in under-represented areas such as plumbing or carpentry, or pre-qualification criteria could be stated.

Ban on Secrecy Clauses

Secrecy clauses in employment contracts will be banned so employers will no longer be able to prevent employees discussing their pay with their colleagues.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 27/04/2009.

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