Feeds

Equality Act causes logistics nightmare

Public bodies scramble to meet demands of new legislation

High performance access to file storage

Opinion Public authorities are having to gamble on how to try to meet the impossible demands of new equalities legislation. Authorities will have to try to second-guess a consultation process if they are to have any chance of meeting an April deadline.

Most of the Equality Act came into force earlier this month. One key part, though, will not take effect until April. The trouble is that it could impose a huge obligation on organisations and give them almost no time to meet its demands.

The Act imposes on public bodies a "single equality duty". This duty is a good idea – it demands that organisations eliminate discrimination and promote equality. They must publish information related to equality as well as set and meet equality objectives.

This applies to all the characteristics covered by the Equality Act – race, disability, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment. It replaces equivalent duties currently limited to race, gender and disability equality.

The problem is with the time scale being set by Government. The duty will come into force on 4 April 2011. Yet the consultation on the duty has not even closed. The Government response may not be published until three months after the consultation has ended, meaning February of next year.

This puts public bodies on the horns of a dilemma. They can either wait until the final form of the Regulations implementing the law is known in February - leaving themselves almost no chance of being compliant with the law when it comes into force.

Or organisations can start work now on complying, but run the risk of the legal ground shifting under their feet as the consultation, Government response and the promised Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) guidance is published.

It would be nearly impossible for any organisation to fulfil all the conditions of the duty in the few weeks between February and April. They must conduct an impact assessment of all their policies and practices to make sure they comply with the new law.

The scope of this assessment is still vague, and is likely to be enormous – every single aspect of an organisation's activities will be covered: policies and practices affecting staff and prospective staff, estates and facilities provision, procurement, as well as relationships with other institutions, funders, business and the wider community.

"Policies and practices" will include not just formal written policies and practices but also informal rules and practices, and how formal policies are applied. In some equality strands – religion and belief and sexual orientation – bodies may currently lack the necessary quality of data to enable meaningful impact assessment to take place.

Our experience as a law firm is that the process of impact assessment is neither quick nor easy. Institutions are still unsure about what is required and we are seeing disputes between institutions and trade unions over what needs to be assessed, when, how and in what detail. The Government consultation paper fails to acknowledge the real cost to the public sector of complying with this impact assessment burden.

Organisations will also have to comply with the onerous obligations to publish workforce data on equality issues, listing the protected characteristics of their employees. This, again, is a major undertaking.

As it stands there is no clarity on exactly what an organisation's obligations are in relation to information publishing or impact assessments. Ultimately, it will be the EHRC which enforces the Regulations, and their guidance is still not available, even in draft form.

The substance of the draft Regulations could change after consultation, and so could the proposed timetable. Organisations which start their impact assessments and information publishing now could find themselves having to repeat their efforts or scrap them entirely if the proposed law changes. Many may choose to wait.

This places universities, local authorities, NHS Trusts and others in a potentially difficult situation. We expect equality groups, staff and trade unions to scrutinise compliance with the new obligations from the moment that the Regulations take effect. Our experience in relation to restructuring exercises and major organisational changes is that equality impact assessments become an immediate pressure point, often exacerbated by the absence of a shared understanding of what the process of impact assessment actually requires.

So if organisations are not compliant from the moment that the Regulations take effect, this could cause them major problems. Yet ensuring compliance from 4th April in the current timetable is almost impossible.

These draft Regulations fail to meet one of the most important requirements of any new law – that it gives organisations affected by it enough clarity and time to make sure that they can comply with it before it comes into force.

By Chris Mordue, Head of the Universities Employment Team at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM.

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

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

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
Singapore decides 'three strikes' laws are too intrusive
When even a prurient island nation thinks an idea is dodgy it has problems
Banks slap Olympus with £160 MEEELLION lawsuit
Scandal hit camera maker just can't shake off its past
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.