The totemic Equality Act came into force today. Well, most of it. Around 10% of the Act’s provisions have been held back pending further government consultation.
Before we take a look at the provisions held back, let’s take a look at the ones that made it.
Equality Act provisions now in force
- New framework introduced to protect people against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in services and public functions; premises; work; education; associations, and transport. (NB. you can read more about this new framework as it relates to employment here: Overview of Workplace Discrimination Law.)
- New definition of gender reassignment (NB. removes the requirement that a person be under medical supervision in order to benefit from protection);
- Increased protection for people discriminated against because they are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has, a protected characteristic. (NB. the following characteristics are ‘protected’ under the Equality Act: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage; civil partnership; pregnancy; maternity; race; caste; ethnicity; national origin; skin colour; religion; belief; sex; and sexual orientation);
- Clearer protection for breastfeeding mothers: it is now unlawful for a woman to get ‘less favourable treatment’ because she is breastfeeding when receiving services — but there is still no right to breastfeed at work;
- Scope of indirect discrimination extended to cover disability and gender reassignment;
- Various definitions of indirect discrimination harmonised;
- New concept of “discrimination arising from disability” to replace protection under previous legislation lost as a result of a legal judgment;
- Thresholds for the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people harmonised;
- Protection from third party harassment extended to all protected characteristics;
- Pre-employment questions or physical examinations concerning health or disability prohibited except in very limited circumstances (e.g., where an employer asks a question to ensure an applicant can carry out a function that is essential to the job);
- Claims for direct gender pay discrimination allowed even where there is no actual comparator (NB. previously women had to point to an actual male colleague who was being paid a higher rate in order to prove they were being discriminated against);
- Pay secrecy clauses (which prevent employees talking about the pay and bonuses) are now unenforceable;
- Protection against discrimination in private clubs extended to sex, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment;
- New powers for employment tribunals to make recommendations which benefit the wider workforce introduced;
- New provisions allowing voluntary positive action by employers to help someone who has a protected characteristic (e.g., to increase diversity).
- Equality law rendered ‘toothless’ by coalition review (Guardian)
- Equality Act 2010: what do I need to know? (Equalities Office)
- Overview of Workplace Discrimination Law (Findlaw.co.uk)
- What is the socio-economic duty? (The Solicitor)
- Employment law Q&A (Community)
- Find an employment solicitor (Contact Law)
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