January 2011



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New equality rights in workplace come into force

New rules aimed at banning discrimination by employers, covering areas such as age, disability and pay, have come into force across Britain.

The Equality Act covers many workplace areas and draws nine separate pieces of legislation into a single Act.

Equalities Minister Theresa May says it will now be easier for firms to comply with anti-discrimination rules.

However, some business groups argued the new legislation will impose a heavy burden on employers.

The new law applies in England, Wales and Scotland.

‘Challenging times’

The new law restricts the circumstances in which employers can ask job applicants questions about disability or health prior to offering them a position, making it more difficult for disabled people to be unfairly screened out.

“In these challenging economic times it’s more important than ever for employers to make the most of all the talent available,” said Ms May.

There are also new powers for employment tribunals.

The Act will also stop employers using pay secrecy clauses to prevent employees discussing their own pay, which means men and women can compare pay.

Read in Full:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11446650

 Houses of Parliament, London

Equality Act – a health warning for the sick and disabled

The Equality Act brings the UK in line with its competitors, but may not be much good to jobseekers who are disabled or suffering from a medical condition

Anne Wollenberg

When prospective employers asked questions about her health, Ruth Rosselson felt she had to sell herself harder to compensate. “I felt I had to defend myself and my condition when I was supposed to be applying on merit,” says the 40-year-old, who has palindromic rheumatism, a variable autoimmune arthritic condition. “It doesn’t mean I don’t work hard.”

For Rosselson, an ethical consultant and writer from Manchester who is now self-employed, pre-employment medical questions proved intrusive and discouraging. “I’d start to fill them out, then end up just giving up,” she says. “If an application had an extensive medical questionnaire, it put me off. If I didn’t have a medical condition, it would have been much easier.

“Those sorts of questionnaires don’t seem to account for the fact that a condition can fluctuate,” she adds. “Either you have a disability or you don’t. There are days when I can’t walk, but they’re very rare. My arthritis can affect my hands and how I type, but it’s rare that it’s that bad – maybe only once or twice a year. A lot of the time, I am just like anybody else.”

Employers are no longer free to ask such questions as they please. Under the Equality Act 2010, which came into force on 1 October, any medical questions asked before a job offer is made must relate specifically to the tasks involved in carrying out the role. This is potentially good news for people who, like Rosselson, feel that disclosing information about a condition or disability may weaken their chances of getting a job.

For Peter Clark*, an arts worker from north-east England, it’s game over if an application asks how many sick days he’s taken. “I once put how many I’d had and didn’t get an interview for a job where I met all the criteria,” he says. Clark has multiple disabilities including ataxic cerebral palsy and a digestive disorder, which once caused 17 absences in a 12-month period. “Now I know the number is too high, so there’s no point even trying.”

In 1998, disabled people were twice as likely as the able-bodied to be out of work. In 2010, that’s still the case. Only one in 10 tribunal claims made under the Disability Discrimination Act – which the Equality Act mostly replaces – concerns recruitment, but discrimination there isn’t less common – just harder to prove.

Read in Full:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/oct/02/equality-act-sick-disabled

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