The Act seeks to encompass all of the previous, disjointed acts on discrimination - disability, age, sex, etc - and to iron out some of the discrepancies between them.
It's complex! Employers certainly need to take note of the implications of the Act and to introduce appropriate policies and procedures if they are to avoid falling foul of it.
For example, if a customer (or indeed 2 separate customers) has abused or harrassed a member of an employer's staff on 2 separate occasions and the employer is aware of this abuse, then the employer must take action to prevent this from happening. Otherwise the employee can bring a claim against the employer - even though the employer was not the aggriever. Yes, true.
So, in this example, the employer should make it clear to customers that this behaviour is not permitted, display notices regarding appropriate behaviour and, if necessary, bar the customer from the premises. For some time now, we have seen such notices in hospital A&E departments and in pubs, but it's now time for all employers to pay close attention to what's going on in their workplace. Poor recruitment processes, bullying, harrassment, disability, race or sex discrimination - even in the form of "harmless" jokes or banter - can all bring the employer in front of an Employment Tribunal, with the risk of very hefty penalties.
It would be very easy to get paranoid about this, but it will also be extremely easy to fall foul of the Act.
So review your processes and take sensible precautions:
- put clear policies and procedures in place,
- make sure every manager and member of staff is aware of how to implement the policies and procedures, and is aware of the standards that are expected of them, and
- keep your ear to the ground and take swift action where necessary.
The Back Office can help create such policies, so give us a call if you'd like any help with this.