The aim of the Equality Act 2010 is to harmonise, modernise and simplify existing discrimination law while reducing inequalities. Most of its provisions come into force on 1 October this year and there are some important changes that will be relevant to GP practices.
Pre-employment health questions
Employers are prohibited from asking pre-employment health questions except where they fall within some narrow exemptions. This is designed to remove unnecessary obstacles faced by disabled applicants who might otherwise not get as far as an interview.
Practices will need a very good reason for asking about a potential employee's state of health before making a job offer. If a tribunal considered that your reason was not good enough the practice might be liable to a financial penalty.
New rules on disability
Following a recent case, the Act bans discrimination suffered by employees due to their connection with a disabled person.
If you treat an employee less favourably because they have requested changes to their working conditions to care for a disabled relative, your employee can bring a claim against you for disability discrimination. This is despite the employee themselves not having a disability.
For the first time tribunals will be able to make general recommendations to employers who lose cases. Until now they could only do this in relation to the employee bringing the claim.
For example, where a tribunal finds race discrimination, it will be able to recommend that the employer puts in place an equal opportunities policy for all staff. If the employer ignores this, employees alleging discrimination in future can draw the tribunal's attention to this failure - which might affect the outcome of the new claim.
Claimants can now bring dual claims. For instance a woman from an ethnic minority community could argue that she suffered more discrimination than she would if she was just from this community or just a woman. These claims are harder for employers to defend.
Advice to practices
Our advice is to make sure that you understand the main changes that come into force from 1 October and ensure your policies and procedures comply with the new requirements. Failure to do so could be very costly.
- Andrew Davidson is employment law partner at medical specialist solicitors Hempsons, www.hempsons.co.uk