Equality and employment law
With only six months to go until the new super body championing equality and human rights begins operating, a leading Yorkshire lawyer has warned the region's 170,000 businesses they need to get their discrimination policies and practices into shape now.
Matthew Brain, an employment partner with national law firm Irwin Mitchell, based at its offices in Queen Street, Leeds, said the establishment of the Commission for Equality & Human Rights (CEHR) from October is likely to herald a much more proactive and targeted approach from the authorities to ensuring employers promote equality and diversity in the workplace.
He said: The CEHR will combine the existing roles of the commissions covering disability rights, equal opportunities racial equality, as well as assume responsibility for monitoring and enforcing more recent legislation on age, transgender, sexual orientation, and religion and belief.
"Falling foul of discrimination legislation can already be costly - compensation for successful claims is unlimited. What we are likely to see, however, in the next couple of years, is the introduction of a single act of Parliament which aims to combine all of the discrimination legislation, emphasising the need for employers to be proactive."
Mr Brain added the recent report of the Equalities Review Panel, which had investigated the issue of discrimination for the Government, had who called for a new approach to tackling the problem in employment. It had identified three particularly disadvantaged groups - disabled people, mothers with young children, and Pakistani and Bangladeshi women.
He said: The review criticised the existing legal framework, which is disparate and complex, and places too much emphasis on processes, rather than ensuring employers take a proactive approach to identifying and eradicating discriminatory practices.
"At present, many employers are confused about the effect of discrimination legislation, and are only ever taken to task when disadvantaged employees bring a successful claim in a tribunal. The Equalities Review emphasised the need to focus employers' minds on actively tackling discrimination and promoting diversity."
The review recommended the single, transparent Equality Act, covering all forms of discrimination, with clearer rules on how employers can promote equality and diversity.
Mr Brain said: This would strengthen the hand of the CEHR in targeting poor performers and enforcing the rules.
Overall, the Government is therefore clearly committed to forcing the pace of change on diversity issues and prudent employers will be ensuring their policies and practices are reviewed now, six months before the CEHR becomes reality, to ensure they are robust in the new era