Changes to diversity and inclusion laws are coming

Melanie Lane and Finlay McKay explore recent government proposals on gender equality, harassment and parental leave and pay

The government is currently considering numerous changes to diversity and inclusion laws. These include the introduction of carers’ leave; a mandatory duty on employers to prevent workplace harassment; a review of various family leave entitlements; and a new entitlement to workplace modifications for a wider category of employees who are not disabled and therefore cannot rely on their employer’s obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

Equality roadmap

The government’s vision for gender equality in the UK has now been combined to form Gender equality at all stages: A roadmap for change. This is a holistic review of gender equality from education to retirement, identifying eight key drivers of inequality – with many relating to employment. To tackle gender inequality in the workplace, the government intends to focus on low pay in identified sectors and occupations, career trajectory and support for those with caring responsibilities.

Key proposals of the roadmap for employers are:

  • tailored equality initiatives targeting sectors that are strongly associated with one gender, including health, education, retail, financial services, construction and engineering;
  • a consultation on gender pay gap reporting to assess its effectiveness in identifying the causes of pay gaps, and employers’ progress in tackling them;
  • a national campaign to help employers understand how they can support staff to balance work and caring responsibilities;
  • continued focus on encouraging businesses to offer and promote returner schemes after career breaks;
  • a review of the enforcement of equal pay legislation (with 2020 marking 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced), including considering the circumstances in which mandatory equal pay audits could be appropriate and proportionate;
  • a consultation on employment rights for carers, including a new right to carers’ leave;
  • a new annual gender equality monitor bringing together metrics from across the government to monitor important gender equality issues in the UK; and
  • a review of the outcome of the recent consultation on redundancy protection during and after pregnancy and maternity leave.

Consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace

This Equalities Office consultation aims to address concerns about the coverage of sexual harassment protection in the existing legislation. The consultation covers four main areas:

  • whether there should be a mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation in the workplace;
  • how best to strengthen and clarify the law on third-party harassment;
  • extending the law to cover volunteers and how best to protect interns; and
  • the possibility of extending the limitation period for bringing all Equality Act claims from three months to six months.

The consultation asks whether there is a need to change the law to include a preventative duty, which, if enacted, will require an employer to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment of its employees. 

Proposals to support families

This consultation is looking at the different levels of support available to families through parental leave and pay arrangements. The government wants to improve transparency by requiring employers’ flexible working and parental leave and pay policies to be made available to job applicants.

Options under consideration include:

Pay and leave

  • enhancing statutory paternity pay and changing the reimbursement models through which employers recover statutory payments from the state;
  • extending the period of statutory paternity leave;
  • enhancing the shared parental leave and pay scheme;
  • changing to statutory maternity leave and/or pay;
  • reforming aspects of parental leave; and
  • a more radical move towards a single-family leave set of entitlements.

Flexible working

As well as considering the publication of flexible working policies, the consultation asks whether there should be a requirement for job adverts expressly to state whether the job could be done on a flexible basis. 

Consultation on reducing ill health-related job losses

The government is seeking views on potential changes to the current legal framework to encourage employer support, including the introduction of a right to request workplace modifications for employees not covered by the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees in the Equality Act.

Other proposals include consultations on a new single enforcement body for employment rights and on measures to address so-called ‘one-sided flexibility’.

Melanie Lane and Finlay McKay are employment partners at CMS