The New Equality Bill

The long-awaited Equality Bill has begun its progress through Parliament, after it was introduced in the House of Commons on 24 April 2009. When enacted, it will replace nine major pieces of discrimination legislation and other ancillary measures that have been introduced over the last forty years to protect people from unfairness and discrimination on grounds of race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation and disability. The Government’s aim in consolidating the existing legislation is to make discrimination law simpler to use and to provide more consistent anti-discrimination legislation.

The Equality Bill contains powers to:

  • introduce, from 2011, a new ‘equality duty’ on public bodies to tackle discrimination and promote equality when designing and delivering services;
  • ensure that public bodies tackle discrimination and promote equality through their purchasing functions;
  • ban unjustifiable age discrimination by those providing goods, facilities and services;
  • introduce a new public sector duty to consider reducing socio-economic inequalities;
  • make unenforceable secrecy or ‘gagging’ clauses that prevent people discussing how much they are paid;
  • require reporting on the gender pay gap by employers with 250 or more staff members. However, the Government has undertaken not to use this power before 2013 and it will only be introduced if insufficient progress has been made on the voluntary reporting of pay audits;
  • extend positive action so that employers can, when selecting between two candidates who are equally qualified, take into account groups that are underrepresented in their work force – for example women or those from ethnic minority communities;
  • extend the law (as required by the decision of the European Court of Justice in Coleman v Attridge Law) so that it protects someone from discrimination or harassment because they are associated with someone with a relevant characteristic related to age, disability or gender or from discrimination in relation to ‘perception’; and
  • make it unlawful to apply to a disabled person a provision, criterion or practice which puts, or would put, people with a disability at a particular disadvantage if it cannot be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The Bill also introduces the concept of ‘discrimination arising from a disability’. This, in effect, reverses the House of Lords’ decision in London Borough of Lewisham v Malcolm.

In addition, when dealing with discrimination cases, Employment Tribunals will be able to make wider recommendations, which go beyond dealing with an individual claim, in order to benefit the rest of the workforce of the employer concerned.

The Government intends to introduce many of these measures in 2010. However, the Bill has to go through the Parliamentary process and may not be enacted in its current form.

The material contained in this article is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances and before action is taken.

© , July 2009

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Emmanuelle Ries

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