Equal opportunity legislation aims to ensure that individuals are treated equally in all walks of life, including employment. Under UK law, workers are protected against discrimination on the basis of gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity and religion.
Equal opportunities employment legislation
Before equal opportunities legislation was introduced in the UK, employers were free to discriminate against workers without any fear of punishment. However, since the 1970s, there has been a growth in the number of equal opportunity laws passed, and workers can now enforce their rights on several grounds. Gender The Equal Pay Act (1970) makes it unlawful for employers to award employees a different salary based on gender. According to its terms, If a man and woman work in an identical, or equivalent role, which provides equal value to the organisation, they should be paid the same salary. The Sex Discrimination Act (1975) outlaws discrimination in many areas on the basis of sex or gender. It covers employment, education, and the provision of goods and services. Age The main piece of legislation protecting people on the grounds of age is the Employment Equality (age) Regulations introduced in 2006. It protects people over the age of 50 from being treated differently by an actual or potential employer. Areas covered include victimisation, equal employment opportunities and retirement. Disability Legislation relating to people with disabilities was first implemented in 1996 through the Disability Discrimination Act. It ensures that disabled people's rights are protected in the same areas of life covered by the Sex Discrimination Act. Since 1996, a series of amendments have been added, clarifying the position for different kinds of employers, including small businesses and large, public sector organisations. Race and ethnicity Before formal legislation, race relations had been a thorny topic in the workplace for some time, particularly as the UK moved towards becoming a multicultural society. The Race Relations Act of 1979, then 2000, addresses all discrimination relating to colour, ethnic background and nationality. It was extended in 2003 to incorporate European Union directives into UK law. Religion The Employment Equality (religion or belief) Regulations in 2003 made harassment or unfair treatment, based on an employee's belief system, unlawful.
Dealing with discrimination
Discrimination legislation covers both direct and indirect legislation, harassment and victimisation. More details can be found in the Direct.gov.uk website. It is important to remember that not every kind of discrimination is unlawful, however. So-called positive discrimination, for example, can be used to award jobs to minorities under-represented in the workplace. Anyone who thinks they have been discriminated against may be able to make a claim against the employer. The Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor can advise on the legal position.