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Employers "unprepared" for new religion, belief and sexual orientation legislation

30th Sep 2003
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As the deadline looms for the introduction of the Government's sexual orientation religion or belief discrimination legislation, a majority of UK HR professionals believe their businesses are not fully prepared to comply.

Over half of the respondents in a Croner survey of HR managers indicated that their organisation was not fully prepared for the new legislation, which comes into force in early December. Worryingly, a further 18% were unsure - leaving three-quarters of businesses potentially unprepared.

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief)Regulations 2003 outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief - in the same way as race, [***] or disability discrimination.

Employers should have a strong and transparent policy on discrimination to protect themselves and ensure employees know where they stand and follow these rules:

  1. Treat all forms of discrimination seriously and have an equal opportunities policy.

  2. Ensure that employees have access to a complaints or grievance procedure.

  3. Where complaints are made, investigate them carefully and with tact and sympathy.

  4. Where appropriate take disciplinary action against staff who discriminate against colleagues or customers.

  5. Provide supervisors and managers with training on how to deal with people issues.

  6. Seek proper advice if faced with a complaint of unlawful discrimination from internal HR or an external advisor.

Richard Smith, consultant and expert on employment law at Croner Consulting said: "Both pieces of new legislation are a potential minefield. As well as ensuring business policies and procedures are not discriminatory against religion, belief or sexual orientation, employers also need to ensure discrimination does not take place within their workplace. They are liable for the actions of employees, whether they are aware of such acts or not."

He warned: "Employers must be aware of areas where they could inadvertently discriminate. For example, breaks to allow religious observance, holidays for similar reasons, invitations to same [***] partners to work events, or benefits to same [***] partners. In addition, there may be harassment by fellow employees to persons of particular beliefs or sexual orientation."

"The detail and implications of the new laws are not entirely clear and some of the definitions will only be thrashed out as and when cases are brought to tribunal," Richard added. "For example, 'religion' is loosely defined as any religious belief or similar philosophical belief - and who knows what that means?"

Related items
ACAS Guidance on Equality Regulations
Getting to grips with new employment laws

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By User deleted
03rd Nov 2003 12:57

The new UK legislation is enacted as a result of two EU Directives. The EU Directives call for a proactive and dynamic anti-discrimination environment and harmonised implementation across the EU. This means employers could well find themselves subject to decisions made in other EU countries and policies followed in other EU countries. That could be the consequence of a "proactive" policy being pursued for example in Spain or Sweden; and the attempt to harmonise implementation. I think employers are drastically unprepared for this.

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