Currently, if an employee believes that he or she has been the victim of discrimination in the workplace, their main legal remedy is to bring a claim against their employer in the Employment Tribunal. But is this the best way to protect and enforce our right to equal treatment? The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) thinks not.
In a recent report, the WEC raised concerns regarding the effectiveness of the current system, which relies heavily on individual employees being able to pursue often complicated and expensive litigation in order to obtain ‘justice’. If such claims are pursued at all, they often result in negotiated settlements. These settlements may be in the interests of the individual claimant. But do they help to achieve the sort of systemic change in attitudes and behaviours that society as a whole would find desirable?
Having identified a potential problem, the WEC believes that greater responsibility for enforcing our equal treatment rights ought to be assumed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Furthermore, the WEC proposes that other regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen should bear responsibility for ensuring compliance with the Equality Act 2010 within the sectors for which they are responsible.
Discussing the intended impact of their proposals, Committee Chair Maria Miller believes that:
“Employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account. We need a critical mass of cases to build a culture where compliance with the Equality Act is the norm. The EHRC must overcome its timidity. It has unique powers…and must use them for maximum impact.”
It seems unlikely to us that there will be any change in the enforcement regime any time soon. However, this report sparks further debate as to whether we are seeing the level of societal change we might have expected by now, given that many of our discrimination laws have been in place for decades. Sadly, levels of inequality in some areas remain high.
What are your thoughts on this complicated issue? Is the current system fit for purposes? Or do we need to look at it again?