British equality act passes

Employers worry tribunal claims will increase

Before dissolving for the upcoming election, British parliament has passed a new law that combines existing anti-discrimination legislation into a single equality act.

The act, which will come into effect in October, includes changes to the use of pre-employment questionnaires. It also requires large organizations to reveal gender pay disparities, which employers worry could spark an increase in the number of claims brought to tribunals.

Employment tribunals are expected to hear up to 370,000 new claims within the next three years, a 46-per-cent increase compared to previous years, costing employers 2.6 billion pounds, according to research conducted by law firm Dickinson Dees.

Under the act, the government extends the positive-action regime, whereby an employer deciding between two equally qualified candidates would be able to appoint the person from the under-represented or disadvantaged group, said Rachel Dineley, employment partner and head of the diversity and discrimination unit at law firm Beachcroft.

An earlier bid by the House of Lords to fast-track the abolition of the default retirement age through the equality bill failed. The proposed amendment was withdrawn in January for fear the law would not be passed onto the statute books before the election, now set for May 6.

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