The Equality Act 2010 has two main aims. The first is to harmonise current discrimination legislation which is currently spread over a number of different acts and regulations and the second is to strengthen anti-discrimination legislation relating to sex, race, disability, pregnancy, age, marital status, gender reassignment, religion and belief and sexual orientation (the "protected characteristics").
The Act also makes a number of significant additions to anti-discrimination legislation. For example, it proposes to widen the definition of direct discrimination and harassment to include discrimination on the grounds of association with a person who has a protected characteristic and discrimination because of a perceived protected characteristic. In addition, the Act will extend the reach of positive action to allow an employer to recruit or promote someone from an under-represented group if they have a number of equally suitable candidates. Also, an Employment Tribunal will be able to make recommendations to an employer in order to benefit an entire workforce.
After a period of confusion and uncertainty in July 2010, about whether the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 would be delayed, the Coalition Government announced that the first substantive provisions of the Act will be brought into force in October 2010, in accordance with the timetable set out by the previous Labour Government.
On 6 July 2010, a commencement order brought the first provisions of the Act into force. The provisions enacted by the order do not relate to the substantive anti-discrimination provisions of the Act, but give the Government the power to enact subordinate legislation and guidance addressing a number of the anti-discrimination provisions set out in the Act. These include:
- Subsection 6(5) which relates to the matters which should be taken into account when addressing the question of what constitutes a disability.
- Section 22 which allows regulations to prescribe matters to be taken into account when assessing the reasonableness of adjustments for disabled people.
- Various subsections of section 138 which allow the Government to specify the form of Discrimination Questionnaires and the manner in which they should be served.
- Parts of Schedule 1 dealing with what will constitute an impairment having a substantial, adverse and long term effect on an individual's ability to carry out day to day activities as well as specifying conditions which will be deemed to be a disability.
- Paragraph 6 of Schedule 21 which relates to the reasonableness of a landlord withholding consent to a proposal to make reasonable adjustments.
The above is the first step to the implementation of the Act. To help employers and employees adjust to the incoming legislation, the Government Equalities Office has published a number of summary guides. These include a quick start guide to disability and a guide specifically for public sector organisations. In addition, ACAS has published a guide to assist employers through the implementation including a table highlighting the key changes.
We will keep you up to date as the Act is implemented, but if you would like any advice about the implications of the Act on your business, please do not hesitate to contact us by email to Richard.Port@Clarionsolicitors.com or phone on 0113 222 3202.
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