The new equality bill as recently introduced in the House of Commons, followed swiftly by a wealth of column inches in the newspapers. All the articles focused in on one small part of the Bill, namely the power of Parliament to require employers to publish information about the differences in average pay between their male and female employees. What has had distinctly less coverage is the fact that publication of pay rates will not affect employers with less than 250 employees, nor will it be done before 2013 at the earliest. Indeed, the Equality Bill goes much further than this headline-grabbing change. The new Bill will ban secrecy clauses in relation to pay, something that many employers rely on. The effect of this may have unforeseen consequences on things like how remuneration committees operate to reward senior executives.
The employment tribunals will have additional powers as well – at present any recommendation by a tribunal only has effect in relation to the individual who has brought a claim. However, under the provision of the new Bill, a recommendation by a tribunal in a discrimination case is likely to benefit the whole workforce, since an employer's failure to comply with a recommendation can be used as evidence in support of later discrimination claims. This is likely to mean that companies will be forced to take on board antidiscriminatory practices, or otherwise face the prospect of numerous additional discrimination claims.
This Bill is intended to replace the nine major pieces of anti-discrimination legislation, not to mention the 100 or so statutory instruments. When it passes into law, therefore, we should have a clearer picture of what is, and is not, permissible. Will this Bill result in a fairer workplace? Hopefully – but in the short term it is likely to mean that there will be more discrimination claims brought.
Chartered Secretary, June 2009