The Equality Act, And What It Means For Your Business
The Equality Act 2010 is a law which bans discrimination and promotes equal opportunities in the workplace. It is something all employers must have a thorough understanding of, as you may need to change some of your practices and policies in order to comply with the law; otherwise you may be accused of unfair treatment and find yourself in the midst of a legal claim.
Under the Equality Act, there are nine groups who have the right not to be discriminated against. These groups have what are known as ‘special characteristics’. These characteristics, which are protected by the law, include the following: age, disability, gender identity and gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Any employee who has one or more of these characteristics is not allowed to be treated less favourably because of it. There are four types of discrimination: direct, indirect, harassment and victimisation. For example, you are not allowed to sack staff because they are too old, or automatically reject a disabled person when they apply for a job. In recent changes to the law, it is also now illegal to treat a person with special characteristics in the same way as everyone else if this treatment will put them at a disadvantage.
An employer therefore has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for staff with disabilities, ensure equal opportunities are open to everyone, and prevent and tackle any discrimination that may arise. In order to achieve this responsibility, it may be necessary to:
- Revise contracts of employment, particularly with regard to provisions on pay and potentially discriminatory clauses;
- Look at each employee’s pay and address any inconsistencies. The Act also prevents pay secrecy clauses, meaning employees are now allowed to discuss their wage with each other;
- Review the application and recruitment processes to ensure opportunities are open to all, and eradicate discriminatory pre-employment questions such as “how many days off sick did you have last year?”;
- Introduce an equal opportunity policy which ensures you do not discriminate against anyone with special characteristics;
- Send staff on equalities training;
- Implement a procedure for dealing with cases of alleged discrimination.
These are just some of the key steps you must take to adhere with the Equality Act. If you require further guidance, do not hesitate to speak to a legal expert. An employment solicitor will be able to advise you on your obligations and the ways in which you can meet your legal duty. This will give you the peace of mind that you have a suitable equal opportunities policy in place.
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