EHRC publishes Coronavirus guidance for employers
Recent reports have highlighted the unequal economic and health risks associated with COVID-19 on lower-paid, female and younger workers. Up to a quarter of lower-paid workers operate in sectors that have been forced to close temporarily. Key workers, who are most exposed to the current health risks, are disproportionately likely to be female, with employed women more than twice as likely to be in this group as employed men. Nearly two in five workers aged between 16 and 24 are engaged in “shutdown sectors” and are unable to work from home.
With these statistics in mind, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) has published coronavirus guidance for employers. The guidance reminds employers that they are still under a legal obligation to ensure the decisions they make at the moment do not discriminate against employees under the Equality Act 2010. It states that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting employees with certain protected characteristics, particularly female, disabled and older employees. It also highlights the risk of reputational damage as well as employment tribunal claims.
Key points from the EHRC guidance
The EHRC recognises that employers are having to make “quick and difficult decisions” at the current time. It reminds employers to:
1. Ensure the decisions you make, for example, who is asked to work extra hours or who is made redundant, are not based on protected characteristics, for example, their age, sex, a disability or because they are pregnant.
2. Involve employees in decision-making processes in a way that takes into account their protected characteristics, such as communicating to employees on maternity leave or communicating in accessible ways to disabled employees.
3. Set up working options in a way that does not disadvantage workers with different protected characteristics, such as those in particular age groups, disabled employees, women or pregnant workers.
4. Make sure people selected for home working, reduced hours or furlough are chosen based on business requirements and not on a particular protected characteristic.
The EHRC has also published separate guidance for employers about their duties to employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave which gives some basic examples of what should and should not be done.