In the last week of October, a directive
was agreed by the EU that effectively set the deadline for the
long-awaited formal introduction of anti-age discrimination
legislation in the UK.
The directive, which was passed by the EUís
Employment and Social Policy Council introduced measures to outlaw
discrimination in a number of areas, in addition to the race and sex
discrimination measures already in place.
As a result of the Directive,
discrimination on the grounds of religious and sexual orientation,
disability and age will become unlawful. The deadlines for the
implementation of the new rules are 2003 for sexual orientation and
religion, and 2006 for age and disability.
HR departments should already have
policies to deal with sex and race discrimination, in the form of
organisational policies and guidelines. Many will also have in place
guidelines on disability, but only a few will have tackled religion,
sexual orientation and age.
It is important that we do not
discriminate on any grounds, but age discrimination is likely to cause
employers the most problems. In many firms, this will require a
massive culture change and so planning and implementation of policies
must be carefully planned.
Action must start now to identify the
possible areas where discrimination on any grounds could occur - think
about promotion, redundancy selection, training, and recruitment. You
will also need to review your benefits packages to ensure they do not
contain any areas where discrimination is a possibility.
Once areas have been identified, you will
need to draft policies and procedures which ensure that discrimination
does not take place and, most importantly, train all of your staff and
management so that they are aware of the importance of their actions
and the potential damage they can cause if they get things wrong. If
sex and race discrimination cases are anything to go by, the penalties
are likely to be severe, and enough to damage any business.
It is fair to say that we have some time
before the legislation is introduced, and we do not know the exact
form it will take until the regulations are drafted. What we can now
say for sure however is that the legislation is on its way, and the
better prepared you are, the smoother implementation will be.
In terms of the impact on business,
reports indicate that firms that are already encouraging a more
diverse workforce are experiencing the benefits this can bring. At the
end of the day, the introduction of this legislation should benefit
both employers and employees, as the structure of the business
reflects more the community it serves.