Firms have heads in sand over new sex and religion laws

Dec 09 2004 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Employers are worryingly complacent about new anti-discrimination laws, and could as a result be leaving themselves wide open to expensive employment tribunal cases, a survey has warned.

Last year saw the arrival of the new laws outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and religion.

But the study by the magazine Equal Opportunities Review has found that fewer than a third of employers – 29 per cent – feel the new laws have had much of an impact on their business.

One year on from their introduction, and although a high proportion of employers have included the laws in their equal opportunities or diversity policies, just one in 10 have provided training for all staff on their implications.

Only half of employers have given any form of training on the new legislation, with only a quarter rolling out that training to line managers.

This is despite one of the findings that approximately one third of the 76 private and public sector employers polled were not confident their line managers had the skills to cope with the issues that the legislation raises.

Equal Opportunities Review editor Sue Johnstone said: “Employers are clearly aware of the new rights and have adapted their equal opportunities policies accordingly. But by failing to provide adequate training on the legislation, they are leaving themselves wide open to liability for discrimination in an employment tribunal.”

She added: “Employers have a defence against discrimination claims if they take all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination occurring. However, if a line manager refuses to employ someone on religious grounds, or an employee harasses a colleague because they are gay, having a policy will not be enough - tribunal decisions show that training is crucial in raising the defence.”

Other findings in the poll included that only two in five employers have received requests for time off for religious observance and one-third of employers have asked employees about their religion or belief.