Equality Act 2010: Your bite-sized guide

The new Equality Act comes into effect this Friday, 1 October 2010. Workingmums.co.uk talked to Mary Clarke, employment partner for DLA Piper to find out what it means and how to comply with the new regulations.

The new Equality Act comes into effect this Friday, 1 October 2010. Workingmums.co.uk talked to Mary Clarke, employment partner for DLA Piper to find out what it means and how to comply with the new regulations.
 
What is the Equality Act?
The Equality Act 2010 is the UK’s new anti-discrimination legislation which aims to harmonise and strengthen anti-discrimination law. Mary says: “It provides protection against discrimination for specified protected characteristics,” these include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy/maternity, race, religion/belief, sex and sexual orientation.
 
What does it replace?
The Equality Act has been designed to make a whole raft of existing legislation easier. In this way Mary says that it is a ‘one-stop-shop for most of the provisions outlawing discrimination’.
 
“It repeals the vast majority of the UK’s existing anti-discrimination legislation, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

In total, over 100 separate discrimination measures will be brought together under the umbrella of the Equality Act 2010,” says Mary.

What are the major changes?
The Equality Act 2010 retains many of the familiar concepts of the existing legislation, including the terms direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment. However, the definitions of the terms are subtly different, says Mary, extending the scope of protection in some cases.
 
“For example, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits, for all protected characteristics, direct discrimination based on the perception that someone has a protected characteristic (e.g. discrimination based on a belief that someone is homosexual, whether or not they actually are) and direct discrimination based on a person’s association with someone who has a protected characteristic (e.g. discrimination based on someone’s relative being homosexual). The Equality Act 2010 also significantly extends protection from third party harassment,” Mary explains. The Equality Act 2010 also introduces a number of brand new concepts:

  • combined discrimination: direct discrimination relating to two protected characteristics is unlawful;
  • positive action in recruitment and promotion: in certain circumstances in a recruitment and promotion process, an employer can favour a person from an under-represented group if that person is as qualified for the recruitment or promotion as someone who is not from that group, it is possible that this concept and the one above will not be introduced by the government;
  • restrictions on pay secrecy clauses: a contractual term which restricts a person from disclosing their pay is unenforceable in certain circumstances;
  • discrimination arising from a disability: a disabled person is protected from unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of their disability (e.g. extended sickness absence), unless the treatment can be justified;
  • restrictions on pre-employment health questions: employers are restricted in certain circumstances from asking questions about health during the recruitment process.
  • scrapping the default retirement age: the government are now consulting on the option of removing the compulsory retirement age of 65 altogether.

How can you stay on the right side of the law?
Mary says that employers need to fully familiarise themselves with the provisions of the Equality Act and consider how the new measures impact on existing policies and procedures.

It’s also worth noting that the Equality Act 2010 applies to all employers regardless of their size. “Any changes to policies and procedures should be properly communicated to staff and training should be arranged as appropriate. Employers should also use the statutory guidance and codes of practice issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to help understand their new obligations,” says Mary.
 
If you are an employee how can you use it?
An employee who considers they have been discriminated against can bring a complaint of discrimination in the employment tribunal. It’s important to note, however, that the time limit for bringing a case is normally three months from the date the alleged conduct took place.  However, a tribunal can extend time if it considers it is just and equitable to do so.
 
"An employee can also use a statutory questionnaire process to request information from their employer to help establish their case.  A questionnaire may be served on the employer before bringing a claim in the employment tribunal, within 28 days of bringing a claim, or such later time as the tribunal permits. An employer must answer the questionnaire within eight weeks or the tribunal may draw an inference of discrimination,” says Mary.
 
For further information on the Equality Act please see: http://equalities.gov.uk/equality_bill.aspx





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