The proposals aim to provide protection against multiple discrimination without placing undue burden on businesses.
Existing law requires individuals who have experienced multiple discrimination to bring separate claims for each type of unlawful discrimination. For example, a black woman passed over for promotion by her employer because she is a black woman would have to bring separate claims for discrimination relating to sex and race. The government argues that the current law makes it difficult to prove such claims.
The proposals would permit multiple discrimination claims only for direct discrimination and only for a combination of two of the following protected characteristics: age; disability; gender reassignment; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation. The proposals do not extend to pregnancy and maternity or marriage and civil partnerships.
A new clause was recently included in the Equality Bill, which is currently before the House of Lords, to reflect the proposals (see Related Article below on the Equality Bill). It is expected that any changes will not take effect until April 2011 and that guidance will be published at least 3 months before implementation.
Some of the consultation responses express concerns that the proposals may place additional financial and administrative burdens on employers, including significant increases in the costs of defending claims. The government will need to provide clear guidance on the changes to assist employers in reviewing their policies and familiarising themselves with any new law. It is likely that large organisations will need a significant amount of time to implement any changes. It may be wise for large organisations to begin reviewing their policies in anticipation of the new law.
For further information or to discuss the issues raised, please get in touch.