Briefing – Anti-discrimination directive

What is the Anti-discrimination directive designed to do?

The directive, agreed by the EU last week, is designed to outlaw discrimination against people at work on the grounds of their religion, age, disability or sexual orientation. This means that once it comes into force, candidates who believe they are turned down for a position because, say, they are gay or aged over 50, will be able to take the employer to an industrial tribunal and claim compensation. The same will apply to employees who feel their age, religion, sexual orientation or disability is taken into account when making redundancies, promotions, reviewing pay, holidays, benefits and so on.

When will it come into force?

The Government has until 2003 to translate the directive into UK laws covering religion and sexual orientation and until 2006 for the laws covering age and disability.

What will be the impact on HR departments?

HR departments working in line with the Disability Discrimination Act should already have effective policies in place to deal with this issue. But they will now also need to draw up similar policies covering age, religion and sexual orientation. And they will need to train staff thoroughly, particularly line managers, to ensure they stay on the right side of the law.

Which industries will be most affected?

Legal experts are predicting that all industries are likely to be affected by the directive. And, they say, the anti-age discrimination legislation will bite hardest.

Are there any exemptions from the directive?

Yes. The armed forces are exempt from the provisions on age and disability. Religious schools will be permitted to continue to recruit from among their faith. And there are also exemptions for the Royal Ulster Constabulary and schools in Northern Ireland to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement.

What are the likely outcomes of the directive?

In the short-term, employers are likely to face an increase in costly claims at industrial tribunal from those who believe they have suffered discrimination. It is also probable that they will need to seek more advice from employment lawyers. The ultimate effect, however, is that employers will have far more diverse workforces.

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