Today the New Equality Act came into force, which has taken four years of reviews and discussion to get to this stage. We are probably all aware of the old Equality Laws which mainly focus on equal pay and equal rights for workers no matter what gender, race or ability. The new Equality Act aims to culminate existing discrimination laws which cover sex, race, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion into one Act. There are however big changes that have come in with the Act and its estimated that it will cost the UK businesses £190m just to understand the legislation, and then businesses will need to get their Equal Opportunities and Recruitment Policies inline.
Equal Pay for men and women has been the longest battle and there are many arguments for and against. I can safely say that in my company there is no pay difference between men and women because we pay people for the actual job that they do, their experience, and the value that they bring to the company. In larger organisations pay gaps do arise but often this is to do with the type of work or the amount of work that is undertaken. Let us not forget that women also tend to have a career break to have children and once they have had children will tend to work part time or take a less pressured job while the kids are young and then get their career back on the road. Personally I’ve never experienced a pay gap before owning Bronco, even during the time when I was having the kids and even got a promotion while on maternity leave to a management role. I reckon if a woman wants to earn big bucks then she needs to solely focus on her career and not have kids.. you can’t have it all!
Anyway, mini rant over … now to the actual big issues in the New Equality Act.
We are all aware of DISCRIMINATION … direct discrimination is defined now as “less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic (sex, race, disability)”. But what has changed is that a company can be liable if the discrimination is based on association or perception – basically if an employee is treated less favourably because of an association to someone with a protected characteristic. One thing now that companies won’t be able to do is carry out a health questionnaire during the job application phase such as asking if the candidate has a disability.
HARRASSMENT will still mean “unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” but with the new Law even a one off incident could amount to harassment, meaning that the “harasser” won’t have to be even made aware by the victim that what they are doing is causing distress. The harassment also only needs to be “related” to a protected characteristic, so really any characteristic could be stated for liability.
There is a lot more to digest in the New Equality Law, and I am sure the debate will continue as to whether it is fair on companies to have to uphold such a broad and encompassing law.
The full details of the Act can be found here