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
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."