EU ministers extend gender legislation

Companies in the European Union will have to ensure that their employees do not discriminate against their customers or clients because of their gender, under a directive approved in principle by the EU Council of Ministers.

The legislation widens existing EU rules banning sexual discrimination beyond the workplace and into the wider community, notably to goods and services offered to the public. After receiving formal approval by the council – probably in December – it would come into force in three years.

A deal had been held up by concerns that insurance premiums could not be influenced by the gender of a covered person. But ministers have allowed certain calculations to take sex into account, where there are clear statistical reasons, for instance regarding women’s safer driving standards.

Otherwise, differences in treatment will only be justified by a legitimate aim, such as privacy, decency and organising single-sex sports. Male- or female-only clubs will be allowed, and there are exemptions for the media, advertising and education. The directive also compels companies to publish records and prove their innocence if sued for discrimination – a reversal of the usual burden of proof in UK cases.

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