The long-awaited Equality Bill has finally been published. The plan is for it to come into force in October 2010. Key provisions affecting employers include:

  • The Bill replaces and harmonises current discrimination laws. It removes many inconsistencies between the different strands of discrimination, eg, concerning third party harassment and discrimination based on perception or association. It also introduces additional protections against disability discrimination to counter the effect of recent case law (see our June 2008 e-bulletin).
  • For the first time employees will be able to claim they are paid less because of their gender without needing an actual comparator. Employers will also be prohibited from enforcing secrecy clauses to prevent employees discussing their pay in the context of possible discrimination.  
  • The Bill gives the government the power to require private sector employers with at least 250 employees to publish annual reports on their gender pay gap. The government has said it will only use this power if insufficient progress on voluntary pay reporting has been made by 2013. It intends only to cover employers with 250 employees in Great Britain.  
  • The Bill will allow employers to recruit or promote a person because they are from an under-represented or disadvantaged minority group provided they are as well qualified for the job as the other candidates. Such positive action will be optional for employers and in practice many may baulk at the idea, given the difficulty of proving equal qualification.  
  • The Bill gives tribunals the power to make recommendations to improve work practices for all employees, not just for the employee who brings a claim.  
  • The Bill introduces a new single equality duty for public sector bodies and adds a new duty to consider socio-economic inequalities when deciding strategy.  

The government has launched a consultation (until 5 June 2009) on whether to amend the Bill to allow multiple discrimination claims from April 2011. It has previously indicated an intention also to consult on whether to permit representative actions.