American activist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, once said that
"the history of the past is but one long struggle upward
to equality" and with the consultation of the Equality
Bill in the Isle of Man now well underway, the Island moves one
step closer to enacting one of the most important pieces of social
legislation in recent times.
The draft Equality Bill 2015 is largely based on the England and Wales Equality Act 2010. Whereas this legislation saw the consolidation of pre-existing equality legislation, the Equality Bill will lead to a complete overhaul of existing equality practices (or lack thereof) on the Island, both in the provision of goods and services and employment. The Bill will repeal 12 current pieces of legislation, to include the Employment (Sex Discrimination) Act 2000, which is arguably the most developed of the Island's equality legislation. In place of the practices of old, the Bill introduces various 'protected characteristics' upon which discrimination and harassment is unlawful, to include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy/maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
The Bill signals a new era of equality and transparency and, as such, will have a huge impact on many employers across the Island, who would be well advised to now consider whether their equal opportunities and recruitment policies (if any) are complaint.
Moving forward, the Bill seeks to introduce the following changes, many of which will have an immediate impact on Island employers:
1. Equal pay – the Bill seeks to extend the right to equal pay for women to include work defined as being of "equal value";
2. Retirement – the Bill sees the introduction of age discrimination in the Manx arena; in practice this means that employers will no longer be able to impose a default retirement age save where to do so is a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".
3. Disability discrimination – the Bill imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to premises or working practices to help disabled job applicants and employees. A failure to comply with this duty to make reasonable adjustments will be a form of discrimination. For some employers, the introduction of disability discrimination will herald a complete change in both the physical set up of its business/office space and a shift in HR practices, to include how the employer handles sickness absence, completes capability procedures, staff training and recruitment practices. What is "reasonable" will of course be key.
What is clear is that a new era is upon us and now is the time to sit up and take notice. It is noteworthy that the consultation also includes topical issues such as zero hours contracts and changes to the Employment Tribunal procedure, to include the introduction of fees.
DQ's specialist employment team urges Island businesses and employers to consider the draft legislation and engage in the consultation phase which ends on Friday 14 November 2014, full details of which can be found here.
The Island is moving "upward to equality" and if you want to influence this historic piece of legislation or take proactive steps to introduce positive changes within your business, then now is the time.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.