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Do we need equality laws?
Whenever a client is insistent that they must dismiss one of their employees, the first question I ask is “How much service do they have?” But, if they have less than two years service, the second question is “do they have the potential to bring a discrimination claim?”
Laws that were designed to ensure equal treatment for racial minorities, women, and people with disabilities can now give those people greater protection than others. And it is a particular problem for small employers. Larger employers can often defend themselves by showing a sound track records of treating all groups equally. But, smaller employers who may only have one worker who has a protected characteristic, will find it much harder to defend claims of indirect discrimination, and by implication direct discrimination, because the sample size is too small. That could apply to disability, sexual orientation or indeed most of the characteristics protected by current legislation.
Is it not the case that employers who suffer preconceived notions about race, gender, disability etc. miss out on valuable sections of the workforce? Do they not lose out on the benefit of different cultural perspectives? This being irrespective of the risks they run of legal claims.
Equality laws are beginning to work
The fact that now almost a quarter of all FTSE 100 board positions are being filled by women may suggest equality laws are beginning to work. But, I submit that it has little to do with legislation. It is to do with education both in terms of greater opportunities for women, growing since the 1960s, and in terms of social attitudes reflected in a wider business recognition of capabilities.
In reality we may be some way off seeing a repeal of equality laws but it may be worth hoping that at some point in the future they will become obsolete.
Malcolm Martin of Employer Solutions – QCS HR Expert contributor