About The Equality Act 2010

Will it make a difference?

Many of the provisions of the much trumpeted Equality Act 2010 came into force on October 1st 2010 after many years in the making. Some the changes that were expected are not coming into force (e.g. the socio-economic duty) and some changes that were expected to be dropped are coming into force (e.g. the tie break provision in a recruitment situation which allows you to base your decision on the under-representation of a particular group).

Employment and services and public functions

The legislation refers to nine “protected characteristics” (PCs): age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief and age.  It outlaws discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of a PC.

The act introduces some of the new concepts including discrimination by “association” and “perception”. There is protection from discrimination because of an association with someone with a PC, or because of an assumption that a person has a PC when in fact they don’t.

There is also protection from “discrimination arising from disability” in other words unfavourable treatment that results from disability. (e.g. a new shift pattern that means fewer but longer days, might discriminate against someone who can’t do long days because a reason relating to his/ her disability.)

Pre-employment questionnaires will generally be unlawful though there are some exceptions.

The public sector duty

The act also places a general equality duty on all public authorities named in the Act and on those who provide public functions. The duty applies to eight of the nine protected characteristics (marriage and civil partnership are partially excluded).The main requirements are to:
-Advance Equality
-Eliminate discrimination
-Foster good relations

Specific duties will be developed to help further the general duty. The content of the Specific Duties will be different in England, Wales and Scotland and the exact content is still being consulted on.

Will it make difference?

The streamlining is to be welcomed as is the emphasis on outcomes. The act is not prescriptive about the processes relating to duty. The hope is that this will focus the mind on developing actions that will bring about meaningful change rather than going through motions of completing complex proformas. However, as with all good legislation and policy, the proof is in the actions that it enables and the resulting change.

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