The great majority of its provisions came into force on 1 January 2019 and the Employment and Equality Tribunal (EET) replaced the existing Employment Tribunal on the same date. The EET will continue to deal with complaints under the Island’s employment statutes, as well as dealing with complaints under the Act not only in an employment context, but also in the provisions of goods and services, premises and education.

The provisions of the Act which are now in force affect businesses of all sizes island-wide, across all sectors. It is important to note that the rights under the Act extend beyond the scope of employment and also apply to the provision of goods and services. Therefore, if a customer has been discriminated against by a trader or service provider, like a shop, bank or pub, they may be able to pursue a case in the EET.

Under the Act it is unlawful to discriminate against people at work because of nine areas described in the legislation as ‘protected characteristics’. The protected characteristics currently in force are gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Further protected characteristics of disability and age will come into operation on 1 January 2020, as will extended equal pay rights, covering, in particular, work of equal value.

One of the aims of the Act is to improve equal job opportunities and fairness for employees, workers and job applicants. Organisations should have policies in place to support this and, just as importantly, to prevent discrimination from occurring in the workplace.

Aside from the multiple social arguments for why equality legislation is important, there is a strong and simple business case for diversity. Companies that are more diverse are more successful; numerous studies have reached this conclusion. Fairness in the workplace is a vital part of a successful business; happy employees make for a harmonious workplace. A commitment to equality and diversity helps a business to provide the environment, support and culture that will enable all of its employees to flourish and to achieve its objectives. This commitment needs to be led from the top down in every organisation. At board level, a diverse governing body provides diversity of expertise and insights, and robust decision-making.

There are significant reputational benefits for businesses that are seen to actively promote equality and diversity and enormous reputational risks to those that do not. It is now more than a year since the #MeToo movement flooded social media highlighting the extent of sexual misconduct throughout Hollywood and elsewhere, but discrimination issues remain in the spotlight. Another key topic that has dominated media headlines over the last 12 months is the increasing exposure of disparity of pay as between men and women. In January 2019, the supermarket giant Asda lost its latest appeal in a long running equal pay dispute brought against four big supermarkets (Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons) which is estimated to be worth in excess of £8bn. Appleby’s Senior Associate, Keira Gore, was instructed as an independent barrister for the claimants in this case.

There are a number of steps that an employer or organisation can take to ensure that they are complying with the provisions of the Act that are already in force. Employers should ensure that all existing and new policies and procedures are compatible with their duties under the Act and the guidance issued under the UK’s Equality Act 2010, upon which the Manx legislation is based. Employers should ensure that line managers are aware of the steps they should take to prevent harassment and discrimination and how to act in response to allegations.

Employers should also take steps to ensure that they are ready to embrace the further changes that will come into operation in January of next year. In particular, businesses will need to give careful consideration to their duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and customers.

Appleby’s employment team are able to assist you in relation to all the steps that should be taken in relation to compliance with the Act in both an employment and a wider context, including training for staff and management. For further information as to how we can assist your business please contact Caren Pegg, Global Head of Employment at Appleby.

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