Q: I am told that discrimination law now covers homosexuals, the elderly and religious groups. Is this true? Is this going too far?
A: It is not true at the moment but soon will be and, no, it is not taking things too far. The European Union has published an anti-discrimination framework directive.
This requires the UK to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and religion or belief by December 2003. In this country we do, of course, already have in place laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of "disability", but we also have to ensure that our existing laws afford the protection required by the directive by 2006. Last October, the Department of Trade and Industry published draft regulations on sexual orientation, religion or belief and disability. The consultation ended in January.
The draft employment equality regulations covering sexual orientation made clear that this included lesbians, straight women, gay men, straight men, and bisexuals, but does not extend to cover sexual practices or indeed preferences. The draft employment equality regulations dealing with religion and belief are a little more complicated in the sense of what is the difference between a "religion" and a "belief"? It is currently merely defined as "any religion, religious belief or 'similar philosophical belief'". We can expect a whole raft of tribunal cases on this - particularly as people may well try to extend the law into philosophical and political beliefs.
I wonder how the tribunals will cover areas such as pacifism or vegetarianism?
The consultation on the all-important age discrimination provisions of the directive is not expected to take place until late spring or summer.
However, the other regulations are expected to come into force at the beginning of December this year, so be prepared.
I would hope that most third-sector organisations already cover such matters in their Equal Opportunities Policy. However, I suspect some organisations which have an Equal Opportunities Policy do not cover sexual orientation.
Most organisations do strongly support the need for diversity policies and we should be proud of the way many of our organisations have pioneered good practice here.
But this should not blind us to the fact that other parts of the sector are still pursuing less enlightening policies and it is not just a matter of the law. These proposals are good.
I realise it means more paperwork but we should welcome them.
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