Equal rights

PUBLISHED: 11:55 22 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:10 20 February 2013

Money and Law

Money and Law

A new Equality Bill, due to be in place by autumn 2010, sets out a fairer future in the workplace for employees...

A new Equality Bill, due to be in place by autumn 2010, sets out a fairer future in the workplace for employees

The government has recently published the Equality Bill, which promotes equality and diversity in the workplace. The purpose of the Bill is to pass a new law which will consolidate, simplify and harmonise all existing discrimination law on areas as diverse as sex, race and disability. However, the Bill will also extend employee rights and impose considerable additional duties on employers in a number of areas.

The government hopes that by increasing the transparency of pay and other benefits and enhancing the equality duties on employers, that the gender pay gap will be reduced. The government proposes to implement the legislation by the autumn of 2010.

The key changes that will affect companies and employers are:

• Pay secrecy clauses contained within terms and conditions of employment will be unlawful, so all employees will therefore be free to discuss their pay and bonus details and other parts of their remuneration with their colleagues and others.

• Public bodies will be required to publish data regarding the pay of their employees. This requirement will be extended to larger private employers by 2013. Private employers will be encouraged to publish such information voluntarily. If they do not, the Secretary of State will have the power to order companies with more than 250 employees to publish such information.

• Employees will be able to bring an equal pay claim to an employment tribunal without having to actually establish an actual comparator. It will be sufficient for such employees to make an equal pay claim in relation to a hypothetical comparator.

• The duty on employers to take 'positive action' to enable them to recruit employees from a disproportionately under-represented groups will be extended. This duty of positive action will apply where the person from the under- represented group is 'as qualified' as other candidates not from that group.

• The Bill imposes a new duty on certain public bodies to exercise their powers in a way that reduces socio- economic disadvantage. It also extends the duty on public bodies

to exercise their functions in a way that helps to eliminate unlawful discrimination or harassment.

• There will be a new definition of direct discrimination that will make unlawful discrimination by association. This will bring the law into line with the European Court of Justice ruling in Coleman v Attridge, where an employer discriminated against an employee by treating her less favourably than her work colleagues, not due to a disability she had, but because of her disabled son.

• Employment tribunals will be able to make recommendations to improve the work practices for all employers and staff, not just regarding those who have brought claims through the tribunal system. Tribunals will be given greater enforcement powers.

Employers should note that staff will find it easier to bring equal pay claims through the employment tribunal system, and they should ensure any inequalities in pay for individuals doing broadly similar jobs can be objectively justified on good business grounds.

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