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Equality Act takes effect today

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The Equality Act, which is designed to protect employees against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in services and public functions, premises, work, education, associations and transport, comes into force today (1 October).

The Act will adjust the definition of gender reassignment, by removing the requirement for medical assessment and a ‘level up’ protection for people discriminated against because they are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has, a protected characteristic – such as carers.

 The laws will apply the European definition of indirect discrimination to all protected characteristics. It will extend protection from indirect discrimination to disability and introduce a new concept of ‘discrimination arising from disability’, to replace protection under previous legislation lost as a result of a legal judgment.

 They will make it more difficult for disabled people to be unfairly screened out when applying for jobs, by restricting the circumstances in which employers can ask job applicants questions about disability or health.

 It will also allow hypothetical comparators for direct gender pay discrimination and make pay secrecy clauses unenforceable.

 Finally, it will extend protection in private clubs against discrimination on the basis of sex, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment and introduce new powers for employment tribunals to make recommendations that benefit the wider workforce.

 David Pottier, managing director,The SeeV, comments: "The Equality Act could kill the interview process as we know it, but this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Under the new legislation, employers are unable to ask questions about a candidate’s health, or indeed any questions that could discriminate against anyone who is a carer or is sensitive about their sexuality.

"While the ultimate aim of stamping out discrimination at work should be encouraged, the reality is that many employers are going to be left unsure about what they can and can’t discuss during the recruitment cycle, and concerned about asking potentially litigious questions.

"Perhaps it’s time to change the traditional job interview process once and for all? Is it an outdated notion to expect both employer and candidate to learn everything they need to know about each other in the first instance from a three page Word document? In the light of the new demands of the Equality Act, employers [and recruiters] should be looking at alternative selection formats.

"For example, giving candidates the option to answer a set of questions in advance, either using video or audio, provides an additional dimension to a process that ultimately always comes down to interpersonal skills and character fit. While this approach may not be appealing to all, it would certainly provide additional evidence that a complete process has been adhered to, and that everyone has been treated in the same way."