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Red Tape challenge puts spotlight on Equality Act

Posted: 18th July 2011   In: Business Employment

The Government’s Red Tape challenge website has put the spotlight on the Equality Act which came into effect last year.

The Act replaced nine major pieces of legislation and scrapped 100 sets of regulations relating to equality and discrimination.

Now ministers are asking businesses and voluntary organisations for ideas on what more can be done to “simplify or deregulate equality legislation”.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said: "We want to hear from individuals, businesses, public sector organisations and voluntary and community organisations about how the Act is working in practice. We want to know whether the Act could be simplified, better implemented, or if certain provisions should be dropped or amended, or whether it should be kept exactly as it is."

The Government has already said that the gender pay reporting measures in section 78 of the Act will not be implemented. Instead, ministers are encouraging businesses to publish equality workforce data on a voluntary basis.

However, there are plenty of other provisions that may cause unforeseen problems for employers. For example, the Act introduced the concept of preventing discrimination against people who have what is described as a “protected characteristic”.

These characteristics include disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race – including ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

With the exception of pregnancy and maternity, the protection also applies if a person is unfairly treated because they are wrongly perceived to have a particular characteristic.

This might apply, for example, if a person is discriminated against because they are perceived to be gay when in fact they are not.

The protection also extends to people who are treated unfairly because they associate with someone who has a protected characteristic.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the Equality Act or any of the issues raised in this article.