The Equality Act 

Significant requirements in the Act that will impact on public sector employers are:

Equal Pay: The Act includes a new term which clarifies that pay protection schemes are capable of being lawful. Sub-section 69(3) of the Act states that the long-term aim of reducing inequality between men’s and women’s pay is always to be regarded as a legitimate aim for the purposes of justifying pay practices that indirectly discriminate against women.

Measures to address the gender pay gap and employment data: Public sector employers with more than 150 employees will be required to publish details of the difference between what they pay men and women. 

Social and economic inequality: Section 1 of the Act will place a duty on public bodies, to consider reducing social and economic inequalities when taking strategic decisions. 

Positive Action: Where candidates for a role are both as qualified to be recruited or promoted, the Act will mean employers can choose the candidate that comes from an under-represented or disadvantaged group.

Disability Discrimination: The Act strengthens existing protections.  This means that an employer will discriminate against a disabled person if they treat that person in a particular way and because of that person’s disability the treatment amounts to a detriment, unless the employer can justify that treatment as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 

Discrimination Based on Perception: This will protect employees who experience discrimination because they are wrongly thought to have a protected characteristic - for example, a male job applicant who is rejected because the employer wrongly thinks he is a woman, because he has a name that is commonly used as a woman's name, would be able to claim for sex discrimination.

Employment Tribunals' Powers: Where an employment tribunal finds that an employer has discriminated against an employee, the tribunal will be given the power to make recommendations that impact on the wider workforce, such as a recommendation that harassment policies and equal opportunities are more effectively implemented.

Combined discrimination: Initially referred to as multiple or dual discrimination.  This is where a person suffers unfavourable treatment because of a combination of two protected characteristics, for example race and sex.  Previously, two separate claims would have needed to be brought whereas the Act will allow combined discrimination claims for direct discrimination only.  A combination of no more than two of the seven protected characteristics will be allowed under the new provisions.