Equality at Work Act
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Equality at Work Act
The new Equality Act came into force on October 1 2010, everyone with employees or providing goods or services to the public need to be aware of the legislation. The point of this Act is to streamline and combine previous legislation to make things easier for businesses from now on.
These measures are obviously there to help protect minority groups and those who are discriminated against, which is unarguably good for our society as a whole, but the very unfortunate reality is that increasing protection for them inevitably hits small businesses hard when theyre already drowning in a sea of red tape, among other battles. Employers already spend on average seven hours a week handling HR, and the British Chambers of Commerce estimates it will cost £189m for businesses to implement the Act. Heres what you need to know:
The headings of age, disability (which includes mental health and people diagnosed as clinically obese), race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment (people who are having or who have had a sex change, transvestites and transgender people), marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity are now to be known as protected characteristics.
There are seven different types of discrimination:
Direct discrimination: discrimination because of a protected characteristic.
Associative discrimination: direct discrimination against someone because they are associated with another person with a protected characteristic. (This includes carers of disabled people and elderly relatives, who can claim they were treated unfairly because of duties that had to carry out at home relating to their care work. It also covers discrimination against someone because, for example, their partner is from another country.)
Indirect discrimination: when you have a rule or policy that applies to everyone but disadvantages a person with a protected characteristic.
Harassment: behavior deemed offensive by the recipient. Employees can claim they find something offensive even when its not directed at them.
Harassment by a third party: employers are potentially liable for the harassment of staff or customers by people they dont directly employ, such as a contractor.
Victimization: discrimination against someone because they made or supported a complaint under Equality Act legislation.
Discrimination by perception: direct discrimination against someone because others think they have a protected characteristic (even if they dont).
You can no longer ask a prospective employee about their health before offering them work, unless you can prove youre doing so to check whether the employee can carry out an essential task (such as heavy lifting for a removals company) or to monitor diversity. You can screen health once youve made a job offer – but then of course youre opening a whole new can of worms if you rescind your job offer on the grounds of a disability, as you are then liable to be taken to tribunal too. Health means physical disabilities and mental health problems. This also means you cant ask how much time an employee has taken off work in their previous jobs in an interview.
You cant treat someone unfavorably because of something connected to a disability. The standard example going round here is spelling mistakes because of dyslexia.
Disabled people can now claim a particular rule or requirement disadvantages people with a certain disability.
You cant discriminate against someone who is or has changed their gender (the gender reassignment protected characteristic) – for example, if they take time off work for the process.
Mothers are allowed to breastfeed in public