Equality legislation

Age

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 apply to discrimination on the grounds of age, which is unlawful unless it can be objectively justified. Discrimination can be direct or indirect and ageist harassment is unlawful also. The legislation sets default retirement age of 65, with employers having a duty to consider any request made by an employee to work beyond this retirement age.

Disability

The Disability Equality Duty came into force on 4 thDecember 2006. Further information about all aspects of the duty can be found in the Disability Rights Commissionstatutory Codes of Practice and other resources.

Who does the duty apply to?

The duty to promote disability applies to all public authorities and also organisations, which exercise some functions of a public nature.

What is the duty?

The duty requires public authorities, when carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the need to:

  • Promote equality of opportunity between disabled people and other people
  • Eliminate discrimination that is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act
  • Eliminate disability-related harassment
  • Promote positive attitudes towards disable people
  • Encourage participation by disabled people in public life
  • Take steps to meet disabled peoples needs, even if this requires more favourable treatment.

The duty covers all functions and activities, not just employment and service delivery, but budget setting, procurement, education, regulatory functions and setting the framework within which the organisation will deliver services.

Disability equality differs from other equality strands. In order to effectively promote equality and eliminate discrimination it is essential to have an understanding of the legislation that relates to disability. The definition of discrimination is more complex, and the separate parts of the Disability Discrimination Act contain different criteria for discrimination that could have consequences for assessing impact in relation to disability across the different functions of the council.

The forms of disability discrimination in employment are: -

  • Direct discrimination
  • Disability-related discrimination
  • Failure to make a reasonable adjustment
  • Victimisation
  • Harassment

These categories are not distinct. Disability related discrimination would be justified if there were a material and substantial reason for the treatment, although if the reasonable adjustment duty applies, and an adjustment has not been made which would have removed the reason for the treatment.

The Disability Discrimination Act allows for positive discrimination, and case law confers particular requirements in policy and procedure.

The Disability Rights Commission produced guidance in November 2006 and managers will have to keep abreast of current case law. It is imperative that prior to carrying out impact assessments, you read the Disability Rights Commission guidance on impact assessment.

Gender

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex. Sex discrimination is not allowed in employment, education, advertising or when providing housing, goods, services or facilities. It is unlawful to discriminate because someone is married, in employment or advertisements for jobs. It is also unlawful to discriminate in the employment field on the grounds of gender reassignment, or pregnancy and maternity. Harassment in employment, vocational training and further education is also specifically prohibited. The Equal Pay Act says women must be paid the same as men when are doing equal work and vice-versa.

The Gender Equality Duty, which is effective from April 2007, requires public authoritiesto promote gender equality and eliminate sex discrimination. The duty places the legal responsibility on public authorities to demonstrate that they treat men and women fairly. A gender equality scheme has to be produced by each public authority setting out a structure for achieving outcomes.

Race

The Race Relations Act 1976 and amendments, prohibits discrimination on racial grounds in the areas of employment, education, and the provision of goods, facilities and services and premises. Following changes to the legislation there is now a general duty on public authorities to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity. A race equality scheme has to be produced by each public authority setting out a structure for achieving outcomes.

Religion/belief

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 apply to discrimination on the grounds of religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief, although there is no precise definition of this. They also cover perception and association. The legislation relates to employment.

Rehabilitation of Offenders

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974/Exceptions Order 1975/Exclusions and Exceptions (Scotland) Order 2003, allows that job applicants need not reveal any previous criminal convictions to a potential employer if the convictions are regarded as "spent". The principal intention of the Act is to ensure that anyone convicted of a criminal offence in the past, who received a sentence of less than 30 months and who has not re-offended within a specified period of time, is freed from the stigma of the conviction and treated as if no offence, conviction and sentence has ever occurred. The Exceptions Order 1975 allows that for certain types of professions, posts or occupations, any previous or pending criminal convictions must be revealed to an employer if asked for. The Exclusions and Exceptions (Scotland) Order 2003 widens the scope of the previous Exceptions Order and provides greater protection to children and vulnerable people.

Sexual Orientation

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 apply to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, in employment, towards persons of the same sex, the opposite sex and, the same and opposite sex. They cover discrimination on the grounds of perceived, as well as actual sexual orientation. They also cover association, for example, discrimination against an individual because of an association with someone who is gay.

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