New legislation has been introduced to tackle discrimination in the workplace.
The Equality Act will cover most workplace environments and draws on nine separate pieces of legislation, condensing them into a single act.
The new laws have been met with some disdain from equalities campaigners and employers, for not being tight enough on gender discrimination and for supposedly burdening employers with extra rules respectively.
This is despite Equalities Minister Theresa May claiming the new legislation means companies will have an easier time complying with anti-discrimination rules. “In these challenging economic times it’s more important than ever for employers to make the most of all the talent available,” commented Ms May.
However, the Act does not force employers to reveal how much they pay men and women for comparison; something which the Labour government planned to set in motion.
“Rowing back on the requirement for big business to publish and take action on any differences in pay between men and women employees is tantamount to endorsing the shocking gender pay gap,” said chief executive of the Fawcett Society, Ceri Goddard.
The new legislation means that employers are not allowed to ask applicants about their medical history before offering them a job. This should help to ensure that people with a disability or a history of mental illness cannot be unfairly excluded.
Another clause means that employers can no longer introduce pay secrecy rules to stop employees discussing their own pay, which could be considered a step forward in comparing the salaries of male and female employees.
Some groups are claiming that The Equality Act is an unnecessary burden whilst working to recover from the recession. “Businesses are really concerned, The government’s own impact assessment shows that this is going to cost £190m just for businesses to understand the legislation,” commented Abigail Morris from the British Chambers of Commerce.
Employees will now have the right to file discrimination claims on two grounds rather than just one. For example, an employee could now claim that they had been discriminated against for both their race and sexuality.