The Equality Bill passed its final stage in parliament last night and is set to become law from this October.
The legislation will replace nine laws and more than 100 other measures with one single Act to make it easier for employers and staff to understand their legal rights and obligations.
Here are the top 10 issues that employers need to prepare for:
The Act will make it possible for the government to require all employers with more than 250 staff to report their gender pay gap from 2013, if sufficient progress on reporting has not already been made voluntarily. 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, and the commission will then monitor the progress of reporting within the private sector annually. Public bodies with more than 150 employees will also be required to report on gender pay as well as other equality data including the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic workers, by April 2011.
For the first time, employers will be prevented from asking candidates questions about their health that are unrelated to the job role. It will mean those with mental health issues, a medical condition or a disability will not be forced to disclose their condition prior to the offer of employment, unless it hinders their ability to do the job. Campaign groups have argued employers regularly discriminate against people with medical conditions, putting people off applying for a job.
Equality Act timetable
October 2010: Main provisions in prohibiting discrimination in the workplace and in the provision of goods, liabilities and services, will replace existing discrimination legislation.
April 2011: The integrated public sector equality duty, the socio-economic duty and dual discrimination protection.
2012: The ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services and public functions.
2013: Private and voluntary sector gender pay transparency regulations (if required).
Some provisions will be subject to implementation only through subsequent regulations, such as the equal pay audits, so these may well be changed or even discarded altogether if the government of the day so decides.
Source: Beachcroft law firm
The Act will extend the law on direct discrimination to include discrimination by association and perception to disability, sex, gender reassignment and age in both the employment field and beyond – for example, to the provision of goods and services. In essence, this will incorporate the European Court of Justice’s July 2008 ruling in the Coleman v Attridge Law case into the proposed Bill. Sharon Coleman, a legal secretary with the law firm, lodged a claim after alleging she was subject to harassment and discrimination after asking for time off to care for her disabled son.
The Act will enable employers to favour under-represented groups during recruitment processes – provided the candidates are of equal suitability – to increase the diversity of their workforces.
The Equality Act consolidates existing equality law into a single piece of legislation. The single duty will continue to cover race, gender and disability, but will be extended to cover age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment.
A draft code of practice accompanying the Act explains that vegans, atheists and Scientologists could be given the same protection against discrimination as religious groups, under the legislation.
Private sector firms bidding for government contracts will now have to publish details of their diversity policies, the government has confirmed. The Act will not seek to impose statutory duties on the private sector to promote diversity, but will use public sector procurement to hold firms to account.
Employers will no longer be able to rely on keeping their pay structures secret. The Act will ban secrecy clauses in employment contracts, so that women can challenge unfair pay.
Tribunal panels will be given powers under the Equality Bill to order organisations found guilty of discrimination against a single employee to make sweeping changes to their hiring and pay practices. Currently, tribunals can only offer recommendations to the individual who brings the case, and they often end up leaving the company.
The Act paves the way for discrimination centred on caste – or social standing in the Hindu and Sikh communities – to be made illegal if it is found to be a problem.