The Coalition Government has announced that it is considering how the different provisions contained in the Equality Act 2010 can be implemented in an ‘effective and proportionate way’. In the meantime, the Equalities Office continues to work on the basis of the previously announced timetable, which envisaged commencement of the Act's core provisions on 1 October 2010.
The Equality Act consolidates nine separate pieces of legislation into one single Act in an attempt to simplify the law and reduce the burden on business by making it easier for firms to comply with discrimination law.
The introduction of the first wave of measures will pave the way for the implementation of landmark provisions to protect disabled people from discrimination and tackle the gender pay gap.
The Act introduces limits to the enforceability of 'gagging clauses' in employment contracts that seek to restrict discussions about pay differentials. It also contains a power to require all employers with more than 250 staff to report on differences in pay between men and women – the ‘gender pay gap’ – if sufficient progress on the voluntary reporting of this information is not made.
Concerns have been expressed, however, that if companies are required to publish average salary figures, this could mislead people into thinking that women are being paid less than men, when what is actually being represented is the proportion of men and women in higher paid jobs.
Opponents argue that if a company has too few highly paid female employees, women who may have considered applying for a job may be deterred from doing so by the seemingly low rates of pay offered by the company.
The Government's announced intention to follow the original timetable has been welcomed by Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Commission has now published a Draft Code of Practice on Equal Pay
to provide individuals, businesses, employers and public authorities with all the information they need to understand the equal pay measures contained in the Act. t