HR professionals criticise equality law overhaul

Proposed equality legislation is not clear enough for UK employers to follow and will not result in a more diverse workplace, according to the human resources professional body. The new laws will result in 'box ticking', the body said.

The Government has proposed the creation of a single piece of equality legislation that it hopes would streamline and simplify the area for workers and employers. The consultation process ended yesterday, but human resource workers' body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has criticised the plans.

"This green paper runs the risk of delivering a compliance based model that will entrench a box-ticking approach to produce minimum standards in diversity," said Dianah Worman, diversity advisor for the CIPD. "If Government is serious about stopping the marginalisation of people in the labour market then it must show a greater willingness to work with employers to develop a piece of legislation that will actually work."

The CIPD said that the proposals do not reduce the burden on employers in dealing with the complex issues of diversity. It said that the new law does not simplify the issue for employers.

"The consultation misses an opportunity to be more radical in its proposals even against the background of the simplification of regulation in employment generally," said its submission to the Government. "Employers are in any case unlikely to recognise a package on the lines proposed as ‘simplification’, since there will be areas in which additional responsibilities are imposed on them and even where greater consistency is on offer it will often come at the price of greater uncertainty about outcomes."

The CIPD said that recent research it had conducted found that employers are most concerned with the passing of bad law, and that the law is a main driver of changes in relation to workplace diversity. "It needs to be designed to ensure that it supports progress effectively rather than create confusion and lead to unintended consequences," said the submission.

In her introduction to the consultation process Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Ruth Kelly said that the fact that the law had developed over such a long period meant that it needed to be changed.

"Because the law has grown up and developed over such a long period, it is necessary to review where we have got to and whether there is room for simplification and modernisation," she said. "We have to ask if we can legislate with greater clarity and more consistency."

The CIPD said in its submission that the proposals are not radical enough. "Although some sensible suggestions have been made for removing inconsistencies we think that there is a need for more radical proposals for a Single Equality Act," it said. "It is the very difficulties presented by the current legal models that call for a more radical approach capable of helping employers to progress diversity in the 21st century."

"Getting this Bill right is essential if it is to support the progress of diversity," said Worman. "But more importantly still, Government need to ensure any such legislation goes hand in hand with a concerted approach to promote best practice on the basis of a clearly argued and properly evidenced business case for diversity."