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26 February 2005

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Equality for all in the workplace?

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New regulations making it unlawful to discriminate in the workplace against workers because of their sexual orientation or religion will be in coming into force today and tomorrow. Employment solicitors in Peterborough at Hegarty & Co are urging local employers not to fall foul of the new rules.

Martin Bloom, Head of Employment, said," The new regulations will make it unlawful for a worker to be discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual orientation, religion or belief. Employers will have to be very careful to comply with the new legislation or could end up in an Employment Tribunal."

With the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 came into force today, employers cannot refuse to employ someone simply because of their sexuality, for example if they are homosexual.

Also, if an organisation offered benefits such as private healthcare to opposite sex unmarried partners, then under the new rules they should also offer the same benefits to same sex unmarried couples. If the organisation's policies state 'married' partners or spouses, then the benefits are not extended to cover unmarried partners. However, if an organisation changes the policy to exclude same sex couples to get round the new laws this would probably be seen as discrimination.

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 that will come into effect from tomorrow are potentially a minefield for employers.

Martin commented, "If an organisation has a dress code that states that men cannot have ponytails, this may disadvantage Hindu men, many of whom wear a Shika (a small knotted tuft of hair at the back of the head) as a symbol of their belief. Unless the organisation can justify why workers should not be allowed ponytails, this could be seen as discrimination."

A major concern over the new regulations concerning discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief is that workers will not have to provide evidence to show that that they follow a religion or belief.

Mr Bloom explained," There has been much discussion regarding the lack of definition in the legislation as to what constitutes a religion or belief. Whilst we can readily identify traditional religious groups like Jews or Catholics, it raises the question whether groups such as Rastafarians or animal rights activists should also be recognised. The concern is that some people will try to take advantage of the cloudiness of the issue, to bring a claim against their employer."

He concluded, "As the new rules on religious or belief discrimination are unclear, you may even see workers who are Christians making a claim for discrimination if they have to work over Christmas. Only after some cases have been brought before a Tribunal will lawyers and employers have a better understanding of when the legislation will apply."

December 2003




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This article is an employment law e-ssentials bulletin produced by Hegarty & Co

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