Managing difference – the Equality Bill

What a week! If the management of bullying and harassment wasn’t at the forefront of minds before last Sunday afternoon, it probably is now. At the end of last week’s note I mentioned that my focus this week would be on Equality and Diversity. The events of the last week have been partly fitting for this topic.

But before that, I hope that those who joined us for the health and well-being webinar with Dr. Steve Boorman from Royal Mail last Thursday agree that it was an excellent session. Our next webinar is taking place at 10.00am on March 25th. We will be joined by the CIPD and Department for Business.

Okay – onto Equality and Diversity (difference). In October 2010, the Equality Bill is scheduled to become law in the UK. It’s the biggest single biggest piece of employment legislation that the UK will face this year. The Bill is designed to ensure that everybody is adequately protected against discrimination.

A socio-economic duty to reduce inequality

The Bill will consolidate existing legislation on sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age. If not followed or prepared for properly, it could result in significant costs for organisations. The Equalities Office is estimating that its implementation is likely to cost somewhere in the region of £310million mainly as a result of extra tribunal and court cases.

Speaking of the link to bullying and harassment, the focus of the new Bill will be on ‘preventing unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating a persons’ dignity or creating a hostile environment’. The emphasis is on the concept of prevention and the steps an organisation takes to help prevention. Organisations will be compelled to recognise their socio-economic duty to reduce inequality.

The Bill will include a new term of ‘protected characteristic’ – a protected characteristic being sex, race, age, and religious belief etc. Conduct which is ‘related to’ a protected characteristic will be also be covered. For example it will protect an employee from being harassed because of their association with someone – such as having a relative who is a homosexual or of a certain race.

The Bill is also designed to increase transparency about pay. Organisations in the private sector with more than 250 employees will be required to publish information on differences in pay between male and female employees (from 2013). The public sector will be required to publish pay gap reports too. The public sector will also be forced to consider equality when deciding on purchasing or outsourcing.

In recruitment, an employer will be able to take a ‘protected characteristic’ into account. For example, where a male and female applicant are considered as having equal skills and experience, the female could be appointed where there is female under representation. This is in effect, positive action.

Employment tribunals will have new powers to make recommendations that will have to be applied to the whole workforce. For example, if a former employee wins a case for being discriminated against, the organisation could be ordered to provide training in equality and diversity management for all managers.

The Bill is far reaching. Even the Pope has had something to say about it!

What can you do now?

  • Ensure your equality and diversity policies are compliant – carry out Equality Impact Assessments
  • Deliver staff briefing sessions on the changing legislation
  • Deliver one day courses on ‘Equality & Diversity – how to manage difference’
  • Run training sessions on the prevention of bullying and harassment
  • Deliver training sessions on managing difficult conversations
  • Set up an in-house mediation scheme

By the way, it’s the end of February already! I hope those who started to work on their personal and career development plans at the start of the year are making good progress. Finally, well done to Italy, Ireland and France for coming out top in 3 excellent games of rugby this weekend. Gosh – that was a difficult sentence to write…