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The Equalities Act – What you need to know
Whether you are an employer or an employee The Equality Act which came into force on 1st October 2010 is likely to affect you.
What has changed?
The Act aims to strengthen previous legislation and prevent discrimination against employees because of age, sex, disability, race, religion or belief but it is not yet clear how the courts will interpret the Act. Many employers won’t know for example that they may now be liable for offensive remarks made by people they don’t directly employ. If a visitor to a workplace says something offensive and the employer doesn’t take action to prevent them doing it again they may have to pay compensation to people in the workplace who are offended, even if that comment wasn’t intended for them but was directed at somebody else.
There is enhanced protection for people who suffer from ill health for example Employers are no longer able to ask about health or disabilities as part of an interviewing process.
David Frost the Director General of The British Chamber of Commerce sums it up well in saying “The Equality Act is a very complex piece of legislation. If small businesses get this wrong they end up in an Employment Tribunal”.
What can I do to make sure that I understand my rights and responsibilities?
Employers need to update their policies and training within the workplace to make sure that they can avoid unnecessary disputes. That training ought to include discussing codes of conduct with their employees so that they are aware of their responsibilities towards their colleagues.
What will this cost?
The British Chambers of Commerce estimates it will cost £189 million for businesses to implement the Act. However, businesses are able to obtain lower cost training and policy packs from a number of sources including local legal advisers.
Unfortunately, that cost is going to have to be born by businesses at a time where trading conditions are difficult and where there are already concerns about the threat of redundancy. Many legal advisers are concerned that Compromise Agreements may be rendered invalid as an unintended consequence of the Act. If you are made redundant and receive a Compromise Agreement you should seek legal advice on it.
For local legal advice on either The Equalities Act or Compromise Agreements please contact Mr. Ashley Harkus on 01495 763333