An Equality Bill amendment to clarify the law on protection from discrimination by association has been rejected by the House of Lords.
But a legal expert has told Personnel Today employers were still largely unaware of the right.
Amendment seven, tabled by Herman Ouseley during the House of Lords committee stage of the Equality Bill, called for a clear statement in the Bill that people associated with minority groups and those perceived to have a protected characteristic were themselves protected under discrimination legislation.
It was thrown out on Monday after the Lords agreed discrimination by association was already covered by current legislation.
Yet Guy Lamb, employment partner at law firm DLA Piper, told the magazine most employers were not aware of the law surrounding discrimination by association, so the amendment should have been passed to make the law absolutely clear.
“I suspect most employers don’t know about [the law surrounding protection by association and perception]. More sophisticated employers probably are aware of it but, in general, most are probably not,” he said.
“Arguably, if it is a settled aspect of the law, then why not write it into the legislation? If it’s clear, then at least employers know where they stand. Clarity is always good.”
Case law in 2008– Coleman v Attridge Law – found a woman had been discriminated against by her employer because of her association with her disabled son.
Ouseley told the House of Lords: “The purpose of this new clause is to put protection based on association or perception into the Bill. The full protection against discrimination which the Bill offers can then be as widely known to all users, or potential users – such as employers, employees, service providers, service users and public authorities – as possible.”
The Equality Bill is intended to compile all equality legislation in one place.
But Glenys Thornton, a House of Lords whip on equality issues, rejected the amendment, saying: “It is well established and well understood that the definitions of direct discrimination in current legislation using the ‘on the grounds of’ formulation are broad enough to cover discrimination based on association and perception.”
Jo Stubbs, XpertHR employment law editor, said: “As Ouseley himself acknowledged, his proposed clause does not introduce anything in terms of the law, but would merely ensure that anyone reading the Bill would appreciate immediately that these aspects of protection against discrimination were part of the law.”