Are you ready for the Equality Act? 1 October sees a huge change in UK law – but will it affect your firm?

By: Georgina Harris

Date: 13 September 2010

Hand holding scalesBig changes to business law come into force twice a year – in April and October. 1 October sees employment law changing yet again – the minimum wage is going up, and the Equality Act kicks in.

If you’re a manager battling hard times the last thing you need is more law, but you’ll be pleased to hear that this round of law changes might end up making your life more straightforward. The key new law, the Equality Act, harmonises the current muddlesome raft of equality and diversity legislation into one single set of rules.

Although the Act is a huge piece of legislation, there won't be any major changes to employee rights. However, you should bear in mind that various types of bad business behaviour have now been specifically made unlawful:

  • associative discrimination: when a worker is treated badly because they associate with another person who possesses a ‘protected characteristic’ (such as disability)
  • harassment by a third party: employers could now be liable for harassment of their staff by people they don’t employ themselves, such as customers
  • indirect discrimination: which could occur when you have an in-house policy that applies to everyone but in practice disadvantages a group of workers.

The Act also makes various changes to victimisation and harassment rules. There aren’t any changes to maternity/parental leave rights at the moment, although some legislation may appear for April 2011.

Even if this doesn’t affect you right now, you may want to cast an eye over your HR policies to get rid of mentions of old rules – law like the Disability Discrimination Act will no longer exist (although its obligations do). Acas has produced a crystal-clear one-page chart that sets out – in glorious technicolour - all the employer’s responsibilities under the Act.

Changes to the the national minimum wage (NMW) are even more straightforward – all the rates increase a little, and there is a new rate for any apprentices you have. From 1 October, you should pay your NMW staff:

  • £5.93 an hour to workers aged 21 and over
  • £4.92 an hour to workers aged 18-20
  • £3.64 an hour to workers aged 16-18

The main rate - £5.93 – now applies to workers aged 21-plus (was 22-plus). Apprentices - who previously didn’t qualify - should now be paid at least £2.50 an hour if they are under 19, or 19 and over and in their first apprenticeship year.

And that’s it – some businesses in the pub trade, recruitment agencies and modeling agencies will need to tweak their working practices, but overall, this CCD is, mercifully, legislation-light for small firms.

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