Core discrimination provisions
The first and biggest stage in the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 took place on 1 October. The vast majority of its core provisions were implemented on that date, including the modernised definitions of protected characteristics, discrimination, harassment and victimisation and measures increasing protection for disabled people. That meant the simultaneous repeal of most existing anti-discrimination legislation, including old favourites like the Equal Pay Act, the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. Transitional provisions will apply to acts committed before 1 October, which are relied on in proceedings brought after that date, so it will be a while before we can throw out our copies of the old legislation.
Some measures have not been implemented. The complicated rules that would allow discrimination claims to be brought to challenge discrimination because of a combination of two protected characteristics have been put on hold, as has the clause that could allow an obligation to publish gender pay gap information to be imposed on private sector employers. The provision that would have allowed limited positive action by employers when choosing between two equally qualified candidates has also been shelved.
Public sector equality duty
Another key part of the Act is the replacement of the three separate public sector duties in relation to race, disability and gender with a single unified duty covering all the main discrimination strands. A consultation document published over the summer confirms that the relevant sections of the Equality Act 2010 will be implemented next April. The new duty will apply to most larger public sector organisations and will oblige them to address the full range of equality issues when carrying out their functions.
The consultation paper invites views about the design of specific duties to complement the over-arching general duty. The Government proposes that the focus should be on the publication of data so that the public can judge for itself how public bodies are advancing equality, rather than on the production of equality schemes. Each body will be free to decide how best to do this, in line with guidance to be published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In most cases, this is likely to involve the publication of monitoring statistics and the results of equality impact assessments. There will also be an obligation to publish equality objectives, though organisations will have until April 2012 to do this.
Guidance and codes of practice
The Equality and Human Rights Commission and ACAS have both published guides on the measures that were implemented in October. The associated codes of practice, covering employment, equal pay and services, and public functions and associations will also be available on the EHRC website. In addition, the Office of Disability Issues has produced revised guidance about matters to be taken into account when assessing whether someone is disabled.