Published on April 26, 2019 by lauraduckett

28 square portraits of people of different races and genders

Diversity in the workplace is integral to the success of any law firm and any business in general. Promoting a diverse environment is key to breaking social and racial barriers and providing equal opportunities to all employees. Laws to promote equality, however, haven’t always been around, so we still have a lot of catching up to do. Read on to see what UK legislation currently protects diversity in the workplace.

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The Equality Act 2006

The Equality Act 2006 established a body known as the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (the Commission). The act states that the general duty of this body is to encourage and support the development of a society that respects the individual’s human rights and that encourages people to achieve their potential without being limited by prejudice or discrimination. 

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 combined more than 116 pieces of legislation into one single act. Some examples of legislation brought together include the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Pay Act 1970.

Chapter 1 of the Act specifically mentions employers. In summary, an employer cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees during the course of their employment. For example, an employer must make reasonable adjustments when hiring someone with a disability.

The act also states that an employer cannot treat one worker/employee (or job applicant) worse than another because of a protected characteristic (this is called direct discrimination). For example, making a pregnant employee redundant because of their pregnancy (a protected characteristic) would constitute direct discrimination.

The following characteristics are protected under the act:

  1. Age
  2. Disability  
  3. Gender Reassignment
  4. Marriage and Civil Partnership
  5. Pregnancy and maternity
  6. Race
  7. Religion or belief
  8. Sex
  9. Sexual Orientation

It is also unlawful to indirectly discriminate because of a protected characteristic. An example of indirect discrimination would be a policy of only giving applicants a particular job if they could drive because of the need to get to and from client meetings. This might indirectly discriminate against disabled people who may not be able to drive due to their disability, but nonetheless would have means to get from appointment to appointment. Unless such a policy is a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim, it is unlawful.

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Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, SI 2017/172 and also SI 2017/173 (“The Gender Pay Gap Regulations”)

These acts required private, public and voluntary sector employers to publish gender pay gap information (the difference between what men and women are being paid) if they had 250 or more employees. The first date the employers were required to do this in the private sector and voluntary sector was 4th April 2018. They must report their gender pay gaps annually from now on.

The purpose of these regulations was to increase pay transparency and encourage employers to tackle pay inequality in the workplace. Gender inequality in the workplace is not just a question of salary, however. In law firms, men are more likely to be partners than women. There is also a lack of gender diversity in the boardroom of many of the biggest companies.

Although not actually a law, it is also worth noting that in recent months, the government launched a consultation on ethnicity pay reporting. The aim of this was to see if there is a relationship between pay levels and race.
Studying Law as a Mature Student

Directive 2006/54/EC Of The European Parliament And Of The Council

Of course, a conversation about diversity could not be complete without a reference to the laws that have come from the European Union and its preceding institutions.

Law students will at some point come across this directive. The 2006/54 (recast) directive brought together four pieces of legislation. According to Article 1 of the directive, the purpose of the legislation is to promote the principle of equal opportunity and equal treatment of men and women in the workplace. 

Those who’ve studied EU law will know that many of the provisions of the directive are well established in UK law.  The preamble to the directive for example states that unfavourable treatment of a woman related to pregnancy or maternity constitutes direct discrimination on grounds of sex. The definitions of what direct and indirect discrimination are also present in the directive, as well as the definition of proportionality.

Related pages:

Bird & Bird – Diversity Programmes

Diversity – Where Are Law Firms Going Wrong?


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