New proposals for changes to enforcement of discrimination rights
The Women and Equalities Committee (“WEC”) (a parliamentary committee which oversees the Government Equalities Office) has published a new report proposing radical changes to the enforcement of rights under the Equality Act 2010 (“EqA”).
The WEC considers that many organisations do not meet their obligations under the EqA and that they go unchallenged under the current individualised approach to enforcement.
Whilst individuals should still have the right to challenge discrimination in the courts, the WEC believes that this form of enforcement should be used rarely and that we need “a fundamental shift” in the way enforcement of the EqA is applied.
The report was published on 30 July 2019.
The report makes a number of recommendations, the most significant of which are:
- The EHRC should make greater use of its unique enforcement powers, publicising that work and reducing its reliance on individual complainants.
- The EHRC should assess its enforcement policies and practices to ensure that the threshold for suspecting an unlawful act may have taken place is no higher than required by the law. It should also publicly set out the type and level of evidence that will allow it to meet that threshold. If the EHRC still struggles to meet that evidence threshold then the law should be changed.
- Each Government department should be put under a legal duty to ensure that the enforcement bodies for which they are responsible (including regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen) are using their powers to secure compliance with rights under the EqA in the sector for which they are responsible.
- The Government should put in place a mechanism to ensure that all of its strategies, plans, and policies – including the Good Work Plan – contain explicit plans to improve enforcement of rights under the EqA in the area that it deals with.
Whilst these recommendations could have a significant impact on discrimination law, at the moment they are only proposals. However, given the current focus on workplace harassment and discrimination, brought about in part by the #metoo movement this is a timely reminder to review and if necessary update your equal opportunities policies and ensure that staff are adequately trained in their application.
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