Equal under the law

BIG changes are looming in the world of equality legislation that will have an impact on employment practices.

BIG changes are looming in the world of equality legislation that will have an impact on employment practices.

From October 1, new laws to combat discrimination come into force under the Equality Act 2010 – some of which could prove challenging for health practice employers to implement.

The new Act draws together various pieces of discrimination legislation intended to protect staff from harassment on the basis of race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender or age, but it also extends provision to:

• Third party harassment
• Associative discrimination
• Perceptive discrimination
• Indirect discrimination

Under the new rules employers will now be responsible for protecting employees from harassment from a third party. This is an individual who is not an employee such as a locum GP.

Employers will also have to protect staff from ‘discrimination by association’ which is harassment or bullying in regard to someone associated with an employee, such as a partner or spouse. This would mean an employer being held responsible if, for example, colleagues make jokes about the age of an employee’s husband.

Indirect discrimination also now covers disability and gender reassignment, while perceived discrimination extends protection to employees who are perceived as having a protected characteristic. In another change from previous laws, employees will now be able to complain of harassment even if it is not directed at them, if they can demonstrate that they found it offensive.

The Equality Act also aims to make it more difficult for disabled people and those who have had health problems to be screened out when applying for jobs by restricting the circumstances in which an employer can ask about disability or health issues.

The various provisions of the Act will be introduced in stages to allow individuals and organisations time to prepare. But employing GPs, GDPs and practice managers should act now to ensure they are aware of the changes and also to inform all employees and any third parties who work with practices. All HR policies that relate to equality laws – such as those governing recruitment, disciplinary matters, bullying and harassment – must be updated and made compliant with the new Act.

Practices should also consider holding refresher sessions to remind all staff about what behaviour and language is acceptable in the workplace. Ensure induction processes for new staff members are up to date and include the new equality laws. It would also be helpful to display some of your policies in the practice to make sure everyone is aware of them.

In addition you should document your best practice: take minutes at disciplinary hearings, job interviews, and other key staff meetings to evidence how you are acting within the law.

To read the Equality Act in more detail visit: http://www.equalities.gov.uk/equality_act_2010.aspx

ACAS also provide a guide to the Equality Act for employers here

ACTION: Ensure all practice policies are up-to-date and that all staff and third parties are aware of how the new Equality Act affects them.