Equality in the workplace simply makes good sense. Nevertheless, ensuring that equal employment opportunities are available and offered to all isn't easy. Mistakes are all too easy for even the best-intentioned employers to make.
Existing and upcoming legislation on ending discrimination in the workplace is intended to expand the employment and vocational training opportunities available to people who may have previously experienced discrimination. It also aims to prevent future generations from experiencing it and to make workplaces healthier, happier and more productive environments for all.
Recent and future UK anti-discrimination legislation on age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation results from the Employment Framework Directive, agreed by the European Union Council of Ministers in October 2002. The directive makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age, disability, racial or ethnic origin, religious belief, sex or sexual orientation.
The UK's Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 came into force on 1 and 2 December 2003 respectively. In terms of disability discrimination legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 took effect from 1 October 2004. Age discrimination in employment and vocational training will become unlawful from 1 October 2006.
The basic premise of these separate strands of legislation is similar in regard to discrimination against the individual situations each represents. But there are subtle differences between them that can be confusing.
Even before this most recent clutch of legislation, a University of Cambridge study in 2000 concluded, 'The statutes are written in a language and style that renders them largely inaccessible to those whose actions they are intended to influence. Human resource managers, trade union officials, officers of public authorities, and those who represent victims of discrimination find difficulty in picking their way through it.'
An additional complication in the UK is that there is no single cohesive body representing equality interests across the board. The Government has announced plans to create a single equality and human rights commission, which will then be tasked with developing a single equality act. Nevertheless, the creation of both will take time.
Until then, employers must grapple with