New regulations which give wider rights to employees in race discrimination cases have now come into effect.
The Race Relations Act 1976 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 implement the EC Race Directive 2000/43. The main changes are that they introduce a new definition of indirect race discrimination, a statutory definition of racial harassment and change the onus of providing proof of discrimination.
Previously, it has been the responsibility of workers to establish that they have been discriminated against but the new regulations put the onus on employers to prove they did not discriminate, once a case has been made against them.
The Regulations amend the Race Relations Act to introduce, for the first time, a definition of racial harassment. Harassment is now defined by statute where a person's dignity is violated, or where an environment is created that is "intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive".
The new definition of indirect race discrimination is likely to widen the circumstances in which employees can claim as it will cover formal requirements, conditions and provisions and will also extend to more informal working practices.
"This new definition means employers must now examine their informal practices as well as formal conditions and requirements," said Gary Bowker, Senior Employment Law Consultant at Mercer. "This underlines the need for companies to implement anti-discriminatory policies and guidelines that are clearly understood in every corner of the organisation."
Discriminatory behaviours on grounds of colour or nationality are omitted in the regulations even though the 1976 Act outlaws discrimination on grounds of race, colour, ethnic or national origin, or nationality. Mercer believes that this could create a two-tier system that will create confusion, especially where complaints are made on more than one basis.
The Home Office has issued guidance on the regulations.