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Small businesses ‘puzzled’ by Equality Act

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Following the Equality Act’s rushed arrival into legislation, draft guidance published on its implications for employers risks baffling smaller firms, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) has warned.

After the Equality Bill became an Act earlier this April, businesses are gearing up for changes due to be enforced in October this year.

To coincide with its emergence, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has drawn up non-statutory guidance on the Equality Act, in order to help employers fully understand the legislation and implement the Act into their workforce effectively.

However, following a discussion between the EHRC and the FPB on the guidance, the FPB has raised concerns that small businesses may struggle to make sense of widespread changes to employment law.

The document is 300 pages and the Forum claims that wording often seems “ambiguous and misleading”. It believes that the document was drawn up with larger companies in mind and contains many extracts irrelevant to smaller firms, leaving them unsure over what they need to do in order to comply with the Act.

“Unfortunately, the guidance, in its present state, does not achieve the clarity necessary to achieve real change in business behavior. It fails to provide clear and accurate advice to business owners about the requirements of the Act.” Phil Orford, Chief Executive of the FPB, wrote to the equality watchdog’s Chairman, Trevor Phillips.

“In seeking to go beyond basic legal guidance and provide best practice recommendations, the clarity of the advice becomes muddled and lost. We believe that this confusion will lead to further costs as businesses either over-comply with the legislation or are forced to bear the burden at subsequent tribunals of not engaging with the legislation.”

Amongst the Act’s wealth of changes, employers will need to adapt their policies on all facets of discrimination, gender biased wages, recruitment, pre-employment health questionnaires and a number of other issues.

Those struggling to grasp the new legislation have been encouraged to seek advice and avoid confusion.

“Understandably, the EHRC wants to ensure that legislative change translates into practical changes in the workplace and that equality becomes a part of everyday business,” added Mr Orford.

“However, it will only be achieved when businesses are given clarity about their obligations and are not being overburdened by regulation.”

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Written by Andrew Hodges

April 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn

Tagged with , ,

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