The Equality Bill has now been laid before parliament. The Government intends that the Bill will come into force in April 2010. The Bill may well be amended as it passes through Parliament, but currently the key provisions are:

  • existing strands of discrimination law will be harmonised. This will include common definitions for direct and indirect discrimination and justification and the extension of the principles of associative discrimination to all types of discrimination;
  • employers will be allowed to discriminate positively in favour of a candidate from an under-represented group when selecting between equally qualified candidates for promotion or recruitment;
  • the public sector race, gender and disability equality duties will be replaced with a unified duty covering all strands;
  • there will be new provisions relating to indirect discrimination in equal pay cases, reflecting the current case law and the Bill will also allow equal pay claims based on direct pay discrimination to rely on hypothetical comparators;
  • "secrecy clauses" that seek to prevent employees discussing their pay with colleagues will be unenforceable;
  • the government will have the power to introduce regulations requiring large employers (250 or more employees) to publish information about differences in pay between their male and female employees. The Government committed, in the White Paper that led to the Bill, not to use this power before 2013 and only to do so "if sufficient progression reporting has not been made";
  • enforcement will be strengthened by widening tribunals' powers so that they can make recommendations that benefit the wider workforce and not just the claimant.

The potential impact on employers of the Bill if it becomes law would be to:

  • update equal opportunities and harassment policies;
  • review recruitment policies and procedures;
  • review contractual documentation and remove any "secrecy clauses";
  • decide whether to publish pay data voluntarily;
  • if in the public sector, review equality schemes.