The Government has published its response to the consultation on the Equality Bill, which proposes to consolidate and strengthen existing discrimination law into one Act of Parliament. 

Implications

The response states that the Government will:

  • Harmonise the definition of indirect discrimination for all areas of discrimination.
  • Extend protection from indirect discrimination to transsexuals.
  • Extend the protection against harassment in the Race Relations Act 1976 to harassment on the grounds of colour and nationality.
  • Introduce the "genuine occupational requirement" test across all areas of discrimination except disability.
  • Consider extending employer's liability for persistent harassment of employees by third parties.
  • Our Newsflash of 30th June gives further details on the proposals contained in the Equality Bill.

Details

The definition of indirect discrimination will be standardised for all areas of discrimination. The new test will be where a person has suffered a particular disadvantage arising from the application of a "provision, criterion or practice". The standard for justifying acts of indirect discrimination will also be harmonised into a single test of whether the provision, criterion or practice is a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".

The protection from indirect discrimination will be extended to transsexuals and protection will also be provided for people who associate with transsexual people. The definition of gender reassignment will be clarified to recognise that not all transsexual people undergo medial supervision.

The protection against harassment on the grounds of a person's race was introduced as an amendment to the Race Relations Act 1976. However, there was no express protection for someone who was harassed by reason of their nationality or their colour. Therefore this proposed extension in the Equality Bill seeks to correct the anomaly contained in the present law.

It is proposed that the genuine occupational requirement test will be extended to all grounds of discrimination at work except for disability. At present this defence is available if an employer can show that being of a particular race, religion, sex or sexual orientation is a genuine requirement for a particular job.

An employer's liability for the harassment of their employees will be extended to cover harassment by a customer or client (i.e. a third party). Although some protection against this form of harassment already exists in respect of employees harassed by a third party by reason of their sex, the proposal is to extend that protection to harassment on all grounds.

The Government's response to the consultation also confirmed that no protection against discrimination for carers was planned in the Equality Bill, but following the ECJ's decision in the case of Coleman (see Howes Percival LLP newsflash 17th July) there may be a case for introducing some protection against discrimination based on association (which could be of assistance to carers)