Workplace Rights: Whither equality law?

The UK's discrimination laws have developed over the past 40 years, largely to comply with various EU directives. The main grounds protected are race, religion or belief, disability, sex, sexual orientation and age. From October, a new single body, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, will co-ordinate and champion all these strands. But will there be other disadvantaged groups deserving of protection, as society changes and attitudes evolve? No such proposals are on the table, either at national or EU level. The Government's recent Discrimination Law Review green paper is concerned with simplifying and strengthening existing equality laws and consolidating them into a single Act of Parliament: it says little about extending their coverage. A debate is, nonetheless, under way about the growth of 'lookism' in the workplace and whether discrimination on the basis of personal appearance is the next area for legislative intervention. In particular, as the UK population gets heavier, there are suggestions that body-size discrimination should be outlawed (as in some US jurisdictions). Although disability discrimination laws may already apply to severely obese or underweight workers, specific legislation in this area could be on the cards within the next few years.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors, e-mail: employment@lewissilkin.com.

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