When we lawyers are trying to paint ourselves - and the law - in a positive light, we often talk about law as an instrument of social change, as opposed to regulation that hampers the growth and profitability of business. One area of employment law where I believe legislation can genuinely be seen as an instrument of social change is the field of discrimination law.
The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 have now been with us for eight months, and have been described as the most significant change to employment law for 30 years. Opinions have also been expressed that the law is ahead of society. I am sure that is true.
Throughout our society, we continue to discriminate on the grounds of age. It remains arguably acceptable (although unlawful) to make assumptions about employees based on age. Ageist jokes or comments do not yet have the same stigma attached to them as racist or sexist comments.
But this situation is probably no different to general views on racism and sexism in the mid-1970s. Since then, society has caught up with the law, and those who now believe it is acceptable to discriminate on these grounds are in the minority.
So if age discrimination is going to shape our society further in the years ahead, are there yet still other disadvantaged groups that need the protection of discrimination legislation?
For once there is nothing in the pipeline either at an EU or national level. However, I don't think that means that age discrimination will necessarily be the high watermark of protection against discrimination within the workplace.
Further protection could be administered in one of two ways. First, existing legislation could be interpreted and extended through case law to cover new areas. Second, new legislation could be introduced.
In considering what might be covered next, it is helpful to look at experiences elsewhere around the globe.