New proposals for changes to the enforcement of Discrimination Rights

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At the end of July, the Women and Equalities Committee published a new report which criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commissions (EHRC) enforcement of equality law in the UK and proposed radically changing the way that rights under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) are currently enforced.

After considering matters, the Committee felt that many organisations do not currently meet their obligations under the EqA and instead go unchallenged, meaning, in Maria Miller’s words that they “feel free to discriminate, knowing they are unlikely to be held to account”.

Given such strong words it’s not hard to see why they propose a “fundamental shift” in the current regime.

Generally, the Committee recommended the EHRC review it’s enforcement policies and procedures to make sure that enforcement acts a deterrent so that acts of discrimination are addressed, without needing to readily involve the courts. They point to a need for the EHRC to refocus its work and be bolder in using its unique enforcement powers and recommends that they publish data on its enforcement activity including summaries of the facts of the case and details on the outcomes.  Beyond that they suggest the EHRC should significantly increase the volume and transparency of its enforcement work as this would create “critical mass” of cases to inform employers and organisation about their legal duties.

At present, these are only proposals. It’s hard to see, given the significant cuts that the EHRC has faced in recent years, how they can be expected to implement such radical change. However, equality is a hot topic in Employment law at the moment – this is 2019, we are post #metoo and living in the world of “locker room talk” being perceived as acceptable. Even if these proposals are in the early stages, there’s a good chance anti-discrimination laws start to tighten up and now is as good a time as ever for employers to make sure their equal opportunities policies are up to date and their staff have had the appropriate training.

It’s clear from this report that it’s really important for employees to know their rights and how to address discrimination (including harassment) in the workplace whether on an informal or formal basis.

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