Equality Act 2010: Government to introduce positive action provisions in April 2011

The Government has confirmed that in April 2011 it will enact provisions in the Equality Act 2010 that will allow an employer, in defined circumstances, to recruit or promote a person with one protected characteristic in preference to another person who does not have the protected characteristic, provided that they are equally qualified for the post. 

The coalition Government made the announcement in its "equality strategy", in which it sets out its general strategy for the future of equality in Great Britain. The strategy document confirms that s.159 of the Equality Act 2010 will come into force in April 2011. Section 159 permits employers in their recruitment or promotion processes to treat individuals with a protected characteristic more favourably when faced with two or more candidates of equal merit, if the more favourable treatment is intended to address under-representation in the workforce or a disadvantage that is connected to the protected characteristic. 

The Government stresses that this does not amount to the introduction of "quotas" or allowing employers to "give someone a job just because they are a woman, disabled or from an ethnic minority". Positive discrimination will remain unlawful. Formal guidance for employers will be published in early 2011. 

The strategy document also announces that the Government is going to develop a voluntary scheme for gender pay reporting in the private and voluntary sectors, in preference to taking a mandatory approach by enacting s.78 of the Equality Act 2010 (which had been expected to come into force in 2013). The scheme will be open to all private and voluntary sector employers, but will be aimed particularly at those with 150 or more employees. 

The Government has pledged to review annually the number of companies releasing information and the quality of the data. It will assess whether or not this approach is successful and take a view over time as to whether or not alternatives are required, including introducing compulsory gender pay reporting for private and voluntary sectors under s.78 of the Equality Act 2010. 


Employment law under the coalition Government Consultant editor Darren Newman asks what the coalition Government's programme for government tells us about the future of employment law in the UK. 

Reporting gender pay gaps The Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched a voluntary scheme for reporting on gender pay gaps in the private sector - something that very few firms currently do. But many HR professionals feel that transparency will do little to tackle the deep-rooted causes of gender pay inequality. 

Conducting an equal pay audit Equal pay audits do not have to be daunting. Instead, they can be a practical exercise that benefits both the employer and employees; we spoke to Lorraine Paddison, managing director of TMS Consultants, to get her insight into the issues and practicalities around conducting an equal pay review.