New sex bias rules could put firms in the bunker

The age-old commercial tradition of schmoozing clients on the golf course
could land companies in trouble following amendments to discrimination laws,
warns a leading employment adviser.

The Sex Discrimination (Indirect Discrimination and Burden of Proof)
Regulations 2001, which came into effect on 12 October, have widened the scope
of indirect discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to include not
just strict terms and conditions of employment but also employers’
"provisions, criteria and practices".

The wider definition could outlaw any apparently neutral practices that
favour men, such as wooing clients over a game of golf, said Joanna Blackburn
of law firm Mishcon de Reya.

"This is not a frivolous proposition. Statistically, less women than
men play golf. If these types of marketing activities give employees a chance
to meet clients and win business, which leads to them being perceived as more
valuable, the possible discriminatory consequences are clear.

"The woman could find her pay or promotion chances are suppressed. It
could end in her losing her job in circumstances where the employer is required
to make redundancies," Blackburn said.

She also urges HR professionals to plan awareness training for managers.

"Where many companies still fall down in tribunals is in being unable
to show they have put otherwise good equal opportunities policies into
practice," she said.

"A tribunal is less likely to be impressed by a manager with no real
understanding of discrimination laws than one who has been properly
trained."

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