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Free EnquiryEquality Law Rights

What will the new Equality Law mean to you?

The new Equality Act 2010 has come into force. The new law is intended to ‘tidy up’ many of the existing acts and laws and close many of the loopholes that rendered some of the previous acts almost impotent. However, it also brings in several new changes that employers and businesses need to be aware of. Employees also need to know what the new law means to them, particularly on points of discrimination within the workplace.

Association and perception.

The new Act includes a new definition of direct discrimination, which has been widened to include discrimination by association and perception. This means that the new definition is broad enough to encompass an employee being bullied at work because he or she is taking time off to look after a disabled family member, for example. Under the new Act this would be classified as discrimination by association. Perceptive discrimination is defined as discrimination that occurs due to a belief that someone has what is known as a ‘Protected Characteristic’. For example, if an employee is being harassed by workers because they believe the employee to be gay when in fact they are not could be classified as perceptive discrimination.

The notion of perceived and associated discrimination does leave some people nervous that an offhand remark could be construed as discriminatory. To counter this, the advice is that employers should ensure that all staff are ‘adequately trained in diversity issues’.

Disability discrimination.

The new Act also extends protection for those who may feel that they are victims of indirect discrimination due to a disability. This will make it easier for those who are disabled to bring discrimination claims. The definition of disability is also being re-defined and relaxed.

Pre-employment health questionnaires.

Under the new Act, employers will not be able to ask prospective employees about any pre-existing health issues that are not directly applicable to the candidate’s ability to carry out the requirements of the position. The purpose of this is to prevent disability discrimination against those who may be perfectly capable of carrying out a role within an organisation but still suffer from some sort of disability.

Tribunal powers.

Previously, tribunals only had the power to recommend changes in relation to the particular employee involved in the action. Under the new Act, tribunals will now be able to make more generalised recommendations to employers regarding their working practices, affecting all employees and not just the worker bringing the case. The Act allows for fines to be imposed on employers who are found to be in breach of such recommendations.

Pay secrecy clauses.

The new Act will bring in an important change to the pay secrecy clause that some employers include as part of their contract of employment, preventing such clauses from being implemented. This will allow female workers to find out if they are being paid the same as their male colleagues for doing the same job, for example.

The Act is far-reaching and designed to protect the rights of workers regardless of race, sex, age or religion. To ensure that they are complying fully with the legislation and to prevent becoming caught up in legal action, employers and employees need to understand how the law affects them and, if necessary, implement training measures to make sure that everyone is familiar with the new laws.

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