The Equality Bill 2009-2010 is expected to receive Royal Assent sometime this spring and most provisions are due to come into force in October 2010, although this timetable may be altered following any change of Government. (Note, though, that the three main political parties are all in broad agreement on the Bill so significant change to its substance is unlikely.) The Bill is currently in the House of Lords. Two issues have resulted in significant amendments.
Questions about disability will be prohibited, subject to specific exemptions, including trying to establish whether an individual will be able to "carry out a function that is intrinsic to the work concerned". Acting on the answer to such a question may amount to discrimination. Moreover, the Equality and Human Rights Commission will have the power to investigate the use of prohibited questions and to take enforcement action even if there is no evidence that discrimination ensued.
Pay secrecy clauses
In its original draft, the Bill prohibited clauses that banned "relevant pay discussions" between colleagues for the purpose of establishing whether discrimination existed. It now prohibits "relevant pay disclosures" - and does not limit it to disclosures between colleagues. Apparently, this amendment is partly designed to enable discussions with union representatives. Clauses that try to ban employees from seeking relevant pay disclosures from a colleague, or former colleague, will also be unenforceable and victimising an employee because they make or seek a relevant pay disclosure will be unlawful.
In addition to these two changes, there has been a proposal that the duty to report on the gender pay gap should be imposed on all private sector employers with 100 or more employees, rather than the 250 minimum as in the present draft.
For further information, please see our May 2009 briefing Long-awaited Equality Bill published.