Business Law & Compliance
Guide to the Equality Act: 8 things to do now
4 min read
20 July 2010
The new Equality Act comes into effect on October 1, 2010. Here’s our practical guide to the Equality Act, so you can get a head start.
1. Refresh your equality and diversity policy
Your policy should state your values on equality and diversity and explain how they will be put into practice. It should make clear that it is unlawful to discriminate because of: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex and sexual orientation. Make sure staff are aware of the policy and understand their rights and responsibilities.
2. Check that your policies and practices don’t disadvantage disabled people
The Equality Act extends protection from indirect discrimination to cover disability. This kind of discrimination could occur where you have a policy or practice that applies to everyone, but especially disadvantages people who share a particular disability. Unless you could objectively justify this, it would be unlawful.
3. Make sure staff understand that harassment is unacceptable
Harassment is unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic – a group protected by equality legislation, eg sex – which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
The Equality Act will increase protection from harassment. Employers will be able to claim harassment even where the unwanted conduct is not directed at them, but at a colleague for example, if they can demonstrate that it caused an offensive environment for them.
4. Don’t ask health-related questions before making job offers
The Equality Act will make it unlawful to ask health-related questions during the job-application process, unless the purpose of the question is to:
- Decide whether applicants can carry out a function that is essential to the job;
- Determine if reasonable adjustments are needed during the process;
- Anonymously monitor diversity;
- Take positive action to assist disabled people; and
- Confirm that an applicant has a disability where the job genuinely requires the jobholder to be disabled.
In all other circumstances, employers can only ask health-related questions after making a job offer (conditional or unconditional).
5. Protect your employees from third-party harassment
The Equality Act makes employers potentially liable if their employees are harassed by third parties (e.g. customers). You could be liable in circumstances where: harassment has occurred on two previous occasions; you are aware that it has happened; you have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it from reoccurring.
6. Review your policy on pay discussions between employees
It will be unlawful for employers to prevent or restrict employees from discussing pay with colleagues, provided the purpose of the discussion is to establish if pay differences exist that are related to protected characteristics (e.g. age).
The Equality Act states that employers can still require employees not to discuss pay where the discussion is not related to a protected characteristic.
7. Act on any employment tribunal recommendations
Under the new Equality Act, employment tribunals will be given the power to make recommendations for the benefit of the whole workforce, not just the claimant. These will still apply if the claimant leaves your employment.
8. Ensure your employees aren’t victimised
Victimisation occurs when an employee is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint or raised a grievance under the Equality Act.
Lydia Bradley is workplace equality and good practice manager at Acas.