There has been much talk by various groups to expand the ‘classes’ of Protected Characteristics as currently set out in Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010 and for there to be an overhaul of the Act.
By way of brief recap, there are currently 9 Protected Characteristics; these are: Age, Disability, Gender Reassignment, Marriage and Civil Partnership, Pregnancy and Maternity, Race, Religion or Belief, Sex and Sexual Orientation. The government has been lobbied by different groups, and the ones that have gained some traction include:
In July 2022 the Women & Equality Committee produced a report which investigated the impact of Menopause in the workplace. It was felt that the Menopause was currently being ‘shoehorned’ into the existing Protected Characteristics of Age, Sex and Disability. Many high-profile companies have now introduced a Menopause in the Workplace Policy, with over 600 employers signing the Wellbeing of Women Menopause Workplace Pledge. We have previously written extensive about the impact Menopause can have in the workplace, and the legal considerations for Employers, as well as best practice in dealing with these issues.
On the 24th January 2023, the Government published its response to the Committee report, which accepted and partly accepted (in principle) some of the main recommendations made in the report. The Government will now appoint a ‘Menopause Workplace Champion’ whose role will include driving forward working with Employers to assist with Menopause in the workplace. However, the Government has not accepted the proposal to run a pilot ‘Menopause Leave’ policy and further stated that it does not intend to consult on making Menopause a Protected Characteristic in its own right. A full copy of the response can be read here:
It remains to be seen whether further pressure will result in Menopause becoming a Protected Characteristic in its own right – it would appear that the Government’s view is that the existing Protected Characteristics are ‘probably’ sufficient, and with more awareness in the workplace it is hoped that women who are experiencing symptoms which have a significant impact on their wellbeing, will have the support they need.
We are all still experiencing the economic impact of the Pandemic, and unfortunately many have been left with ongoing and sometimes debilitating symptoms in the form of Long Covid.
Figures published by the National Statistics in July 2022 estimated that two million people in the UK have Long Covid. This promoted the TUC Union to call upon the Government to recognise Long Covid as an ‘automatic’ disability. The TUC also called for Long Covid to be recognised as an Occupational Disease, meaning that this would entitle employees to protection and compensation if they contracted the virus whilst at work – although how a worker would be able to prove where they contracted the virus, remains to be seen.
We therefore suspect that the Government will state that the existing Protected Characteristic of Disability is sufficient, and again, education and awareness of the condition ought to be sufficient. However, with the new surge in reported Covid 19 cases, and with reports of new ‘strains’ emerging, this is definitely one to monitor.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has suggested that an additional Protected Characteristic should be added to the Equality Act. Povertyism is essentially negative stereotyping of the poor, and an example given was where a candidate for a job was judged more harshly based on his address being in a deprived area. We think it would be very difficult to define what constitutes a ‘poorer’ area and would make defining this as a Protected Characteristic very difficult. It does open an interesting topic of discussion and could be seen as an example of unconscious bias.
We have no doubt that the Equality Act 2010 requires some updating, but with the many challenges already facing the Government in 2023, it remains to be seen whether this legislation is reformed anytime soon.