Ten years on from the Equality Act: what’s really changed?

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Today (October 1, 2020) marks a decade since the Equality Act came into force.

It brought together more than 116 separate pieces of legislation, including the Equal Pay Act, Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act, Disability Discrimination Act and the Employment Equality Regulations.

Since 2010 we have had a single, clear legal framework to tackle discrimination against what is now known as ‘protected characteristics’. These include age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity.

But 10 years on, has the Equality Act achieved what it set out to?


What’s changed?

As a result of the Act, employees have the right to discuss pay and it’s illegal for employers to ban those discussions.

This can be helpful if, for example, a woman believes she is being paid less than her male colleague for doing the same job.

What employers can do is stop you from using work time to chat about what you earn.

Legislation now prevents employers from compulsorily retiring workers once they reach the age of 65. If employers still want to enforce retirement, their decisions will have to be objectively justified.

Before the Act positive discrimination was illegal. An employer recruiting a person because they have a protected characteristic, rather than because they are the best candidate was, and remains, discriminatory.

It also remained unlawful to set quotas to recruit or promote a specific number or proportion of people with a particular protected characteristic.

What changed is positive action provisions. While previously an employer could provide training and encouragement to member of staff who were under represented in senior roles, or open days to, for example, encourage female applicants to apply for jobs in male-dominated sectors, forms of positive action did not apply to the appointment process.

The Act contains new provisions to allow positive action specifically in the process of recruitment and promotion. It is not unlawful to recruit or promote a candidate who is of equal merit to another candidate, if the employer reasonably thinks the candidate has a protected characteristic that is underrepresented in the workforce; or that people with that characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to that characteristic. However, the decision on which candidate to select must still be made on merit.

Employees can now make a complaint of harassment even if it is not directed at them, if they can demonstrate that it creates an offensive environment for them.


Have we achieved equality?

In short, no. We may have seen some improvements since the introduction of the Act, but the reality is, in order to achieve real equality in our society there is a lot that still needs to change.

We don’t have to look far to see that there is still progress to be made. At Leigh Day we are constantly instructed by clients who have experienced something that goes directly against the Equality Act.

Just a matter of weeks ago, female entrepreneur Emily Bendell instructed Leigh Day and barrister, Jennifer Danvers of Cloisters chambers, to take legal action against the Garrick Club for treating women ‘less favourably than it treats men’.

Marking ten years since the act came into force is a perfect opportunity for us to reflect and consider what needs to be done to bring about real and lasting change.


Have you been effected by unequal pay at your place of work? You could be eligible to join an Equal Pay Claim. For more information about the Equal Pay Claim, visit our homepage here…

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