Whenever anyone mentions the new Equality Act I don’t roll my eyes or puff my cheeks in exasperation which appears to be a default reaction of many.
Why not? Well, firstly it’s a piece of legislation that is well intentioned; secondly it’s not too badly drafted. However, if I were to be at all critical I’d say despite a valiant attempt to combine 40 years of equality legislation it still leaves sufficient “wriggle room” between employee and employer when it comes to issues of discrimination. I fear as a consequence the tribunals will continue to be busy.
Unfortunately a few articles have appeared, some by high profile personalities that suggest that it is damaging to small businesses and leaves them open to being sued for mild office banter or deciding on an alternative candidate at interview.
The fact is that office banter will continue as will questionable recruitment decisions. As business owners and managers we need to apply, as always, a sensible pragmatic approach to management and seek to eliminate discrimination from the workplace.
I doubt many have actually taken a walk down Equality Street and checked out the 238 page map of the Act showing the nine protected residents - Age; Disability; Gender Reassignment; Marriage and Civil Partnership; Pregnancy and Maternity; Race; Religion or Belief; Sex; and Sexual Orientation. A diverse set of neighbours who should be allowed to co-exist happily with the rest of the community.
But taking the analogy a step or two further, let’s look at the thorny issue of pay and equality. A woman selling her 3 bed semi in Equality Street should expect to get the same valuation as a man selling an identical property in the same street. If you’re employing men and women in similar roles why would you pay one more than the other? If there is a suspicion of discrimination the employee can request sight of the salary information of those whom they feel they should be on a par with. I don’t have a problem with that. Despite confusion to the contrary private businesses don’t have to publish the gender gap in salaries although its likely public sector bodies will from next year.
There’s also indirect discrimination for disability claims, but that’s just common sense. Continuing with the analogy - In the past, as a disabled house buyer you could only live in Equality Street if you could find a neighbour with an identical disability, highly unlikely and very limiting. Indirect disability discrimination lifts the onus on the claimant needing to identify someone with the same circumstances or in other words a comparator to form the basis of their claim.
It all might sound pretty complicated but trust me it’s not.
So can we all live happily ever after in Equality Street? There will be neighbourhood disputes and not everyone will see eye to eye. But if our workforces respect each other and we in turn are fair and reasonable in our approach I see no reason why this shouldn’t work. As employers or managers try not to worry too much about the Act. If, however you are having sleepless nights it may be prudent to consider employment protection insurance cover, for added peace of mind.
Now then, all this talk of Equality Street has started me thinking of another important question involving something that has a variety of different wrappers that are all basically treated the same. Which is my favourite chocolate in the tins of nearly the same name? Personally I love the dark purple ones. What about you? Tweet me your favourite Quality Street sweet @samplaw_hr and we’ll draw one lucky tweet to win a tin of your very own.