Is your HR strategy fit for the era of equality?

A raft of new legislation concerning equality at work should act as a wake-up
call to employers to review their equal op policies

In April last year Denise Kingsmill was appointed by the Government to carry
out an independent review of women’s employment and pay.

While Kingsmill’s recommendation to make pay audits a legal obligation for
employers was dismissed by the Government, her proposal that employees be told
if they are receiving the same pay as a named colleague, has been taken up.
This has led to the new Employment Bill including a statutory equal pay
questionnaire as the first stage in an equal pay claim.

So, can employers forget about equal pay audits for the time being? The
strict legal answer is ‘yes’, but there are several reasons why employers
should take a strategic approach and consider equal pay as just one of many
elements in an equal opportunities review.

Equal pay

A number of organisations including the CIPD, the EOC and the TUC will be
championing the issue of equal pay.

New super-union Amicus aims to ask every UK company in its sectors to commit
to equal pay audits, and by the end of 2002 it will produce a list of equal pay
refuseniks.

The TUC plans to train 500 equal pay reps to tackle the gap between men and
women’s pay. The EOC has set a target for 50 per cent of large employers (those
with more than 500 employees) to have carried out a pay review by the end of
2003, and 25 per cent of the remaining employers by the end of 2005.

The Sex Discrimination (Indirect Discrimination and Burden of Proof)
Regulations 2001, have widened the scope of indirect discrimination to include
not just terms and conditions of employment but also ‘provisions, criteria and
practices’ (see In On The Act, right). This will offer employees the
opportunity to have pay policies closely examined.

Employment tribunals are already demonstrating greater scrutiny of
employers’ equality practice, looking in particular at management training.

Legal requirements

– Public sector employers have extended duties on race relations. The Race
Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 (effective April 2001) imposes a general duty to
promote racial equality by eliminating unlawful discrimination and by providing
equality of opportunity.

– The CRE has recently issued for consultation a draft Code of Practice and
non-statutory guides for schools, institutions of further and higher education
and public authorities, together with a separate guide for public authorities
on ethnic monitoring. The consultation period ends on 28 February and the final
code will be issued in May 2002. However, public authorities must have their
plans in place for meeting the requirements by 31 May 2002.

– The Employment Bill 2001 provides for changes to family-friendly law to
take effect in 2003, including new rights for paid paternity leave, paid and
unpaid adoption leave, an extension of maternity leave entitlements and
increased rates of statutory maternity pay and allowances.

– The DTI has set out proposals (to be effective in 2003) to encourage
flexible work arrangements (see In On The Act, right).

– Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the exemption for businesses
with fewer than 15 employees, and previously exempt public sector bodies, will
be removed from 2004.

– The Employment (Framework) Directive will outlaw discrimination on grounds
of religion or belief (2003) age (2006) and sexual orientation (2003).

This is an intimidating raft of legislation, but the practical approach is
for employers to review their HR policies in the light of existing requirements
and pending changes, rather than looking at each requirement in a piecemeal
fashion.

By Nigel Youngman, director of HR consultancy at Eversheds

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