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Employers get Equality Act info from mega-thick codes

Three Codes of Practice published to guide businesses on the Act

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The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published the statutory guidance that will help employers, lawyers and courts to interpret the Equality Act. Three Codes of Practice were laid before Parliament last week.

The Codes address employment; services, public functions and associations; and equal pay. They cover each of those three areas in relation to the Equality Act, using case law to outline exactly what each clause of the legislation means, the EHRC said.

The Codes are designed to provide detailed guidance to organisations about what the Equality Act means. Courts and tribunals must take the Codes into account in cases involving areas they cover.

The Codes are drafts - but will come into force when a government minister issues an order to that effect. This will happen if there is no opposition to them in Parliament.

The Code on services, public functions and associations covers the provision of public or private services and the eradication of unequal treatment of people on the grounds of disability, gender, race or other characteristics. It also covers public authorities carrying out public functions and discrimination by membership associations.

"The Code does not impose legal obligations. Nor is it an authoritative statement of the law: only the courts and tribunals can provide such authority," said the Code on services, public functions and associations (274-page / 2.8MB PDF). "However, the Code can be used in evidence in legal proceedings brought under the Act. Courts and tribunals must take into account any part of the Code that appears to them relevant to any questions arising in proceedings."

"If providers of services, those exercising public functions and associations follow the guidance in the Code, it may help them avoid an adverse decision by a court in such proceedings," the services, public functions and associations Code document said.

The Codes outline the actions that organisations can take to make sure they are not discriminating against people with the "protected characteristics" governed by equality law.

The services and public functions Code outlined what that meant in relation to organisations covered by it.

"People with the protected characteristics set out in the Act should not be discriminated against when using any service provided publicly or privately, whether that service is for payment or not," said the Code. "This does not necessarily mean that service providers should treat everybody in exactly the same way; in some circumstances a service provider will need to provide services in a different way to meet the needs of people for example, positive action, single sex services and disabled people so that they can receive the same standard of service as far as this is possible. The steps that service providers should take to ensure that they do not discriminate are explained in this Code."

The Equal pay Code of Practice (71-page / 579KB PDF) said that it dealt with the part of the Equality Act that came under the heading "equality of terms".

"The Equality Act gives women (and men) a right to equal pay for equal work," it said. "[The Code's provisions] apply to pay and all the other terms of a person’s contract of employment, but this code uses the language of ‘equal pay’ in the interests of both continuity and brevity."

The Employment Code (311-page / 3MB PDF) will deal with other parts of the Act about which employers may need guidance.

"This Code covers discrimination in employment and work-related activities under Part 5 of the Act," it said. "Part 5 is based on the principle that people with the protected characteristics set out in the Act should not be discriminated against in employment, when seeking employment, or when engaged in occupations or activities related to work."

Most of the Equality Act came into force on 1 October. It consolidates discrimination laws on age, gender, disability, sexuality, race and other characteristics.

These Codes of Practice are formal, legal ones that can affect judgments on how organisations have behaved. The EHRC is also publishing more informal guidance that does not have the same legal status in a bid to help organisations understand their obligations.

"We are publishing guidance that will give individuals, businesses, employers and public authorities the information they need to understand the Act, exercise their rights, and meet their responsibilities," said EHRC chairman Trevor Phillips.

"This document is a Statutory Code of Practice," said Phillips in each Code. "This is the authoritative, comprehensive and technical guide to the detail of law. It will be invaluable to lawyers, advocates, human resources personnel, courts and tribunals, everyone who needs to understand the law in depth, or to apply it in practice."

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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