Discrimination law is definitely the flavour of the month with many changes and proposed changes to the whole range of discrimination laws, prompted by the EC Race Discrimination Directive and the Equal Treatment Framework Directive.
New regulations came into force in July 2003 which generally tie up loose ends but do not affect major changes of principle.
New regulations came into force in July 2003 with the main likely practical effect being to provide increased protection for female police officers.
In July 2003, regulations came into force bringing Britain into line with EC law. The old rule that compensation for breach of equal pay law cannot exceed two years back pay is removed and there is an extension in some circumstances to the six month period after employment has ended during which an employee can bring an equal pay claim.
The revised Code of Practice on Equal Pay came into force on 1 December 2003. The code, which explains employers' obligations on equal pay, gives practical guidance on how to ensure pay is determined without sex discrimination and has been updated to take account of new law and recent equal pay case decisions.
Sexual Orientation and Religion
On 1 December 2003 regulations came into effect making discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation unlawful.
As from 2 December 2003 discrimination in the employment field on grounds of religion or belief is unlawful. 'Religion or belief' is defined as 'any religion, religious belief, or similar philosophical belief', thus probably leaving scope for legal argument as to whether the new regulations will apply in particular cases.
New regulations due to take effect on 1 October 2004 (the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003) make massive technical and detailed changes to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), including a new definition of 'discrimination' and 'harassment'. In addition, the regulations will bring to an end the small business exemption (less than 15 employees) from the DDA and will bring police officers, fire-fighters, prison officers, barristers and partners in partnerships within the scope of the Act's employment provisions.
In January 2003 the Government announced that it would be preparing a new Disability Discrimination Bill to amend and extend the DDA. The resulting Disability Discrimination Bill was eventually issued on 3 December 2003. This Bill is quite separate from the DDA (Amendment Regulations) 2003. In general the Bill is not concerned with employees or workers as such - they are already protected by the 1995 Act. Rather it is designed to implement mainly non-employment related proposals outlined in the 2001 'Towards Inclusion' consultation document. However the Bill does include some changes relevant to the employment field such as a change to the rules about discriminatory job advertisements and a widening of the definition of disability to benefit those with AIDS, cancer or multiple sclerosis.
In general, however, the Bill proposes changes which are not directly relevant in the employment field such as changes affecting public sector responsibilities to the general public, transport, renting of premises and a provision for membership of larger private clubs - 25 or more members - to be covered by the DDA.
As from 1 October 2006, direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of age, young or old, will be unlawful in the employment field, including vocational training, unless it can be objectively justified. On 2 July 2003 the Department of Trade and Industry published a (further) long consultation document called Equality and Diversity: Age Matters.
As though all the above were not enough, employers should note the cautionary tale provided by a recent case in which Maidstone Employment Tribunal awarded £180,000 to a 21-year-old trainee salesperson at the Beadles Group car showroom in Sevenoaks. She had worked there for only a week before the appalling and sexually harassing conduct of a salesman forced her to leave.