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Hallett
Employment Law Services Ltd

New Equality Bill and Positive Discrimination

1st July 2008
The Government has published the details of the proposed Equality Bill in its paper entitled, “Framework for a Fairer Future”. Once passed, the Equality Act (as it will then be), will consolidate the existing discrimination law into a single piece of legislation. This is to be welcomed by all employers, let alone lawyers, who will not have to worry over the differences in the existing legislation on sex, race, and disability discrimination, and instead will be able to refer to just one piece of legislation.

There are a number of controversial elements of the current bill:-

  1. It enables employers to take steps of “positive” discrimination by giving preference to female candidates, and candidates from under-represented groups (eg from ethnic minorities) when selecting for a job.
  2. It will outlaw pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts.
  3. It will make it unlawful to prevent employees discussing their pay (in an attempt to reduce the pay gap between men and women).
  4. It will enable Employment tribunals to make recommendations in discrimination cases that apply to the whole workforce, rather then just to the person that has brought the case. For example this may include the implementation of an Equal Opportunities Policy, or a review of pay scales and pay policies.

It should be noted that the right to exercise positive discrimination under these provisions will ONLY apply if the relevant candidates are equally suitable. It does NOT force you to recruit a person from a particular ethnic group, or of a particular sex, or a disabled candidate in preference to any better candidate. The practical point is that employers need to keep clear and transparent records on their recruitment process, and decisions, in order to demonstrate the reasons for their choices on recruitment, and indeed on promotion.

A further white paper is to be published shortly setting out further details of the proposed legislation.

If you need any advice on this matter please contact us.

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