Amendments to Sex Discrimination Act 1975
To comply with the Equal Treatment Directive (76/207/EEC), the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 has been amended and the changes came into force on 6th April 2008. In summary, the changes are as follows.
Terms and Conditions during Maternity Leave
At the moment a pregnant employee is entitled to take 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) followed by 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave (AML).
During OML, the employee must continue to receive all contractual benefits (e.g. gym membership, company car, etc.) with the exception of wages or salary (remuneration).
During AML, the continuation of any contractual benefits (e.g. gym membership, company car, etc.) is purely left to the employer to agree with the employee as part of the contract of employment.
However, the Regulations that came into force on 6th April 2008 say that where the expected week of childbirth begins on or after 5th October 2008 the women will have greater rights in that during AML they will be entitled to the same (non pay) benefits as entitled during OML.
This means that employers who do not currently provide non-cash benefits during AML will now be required to do so.
It is now discrimination if an employee is not eligibile for a bonus (or part of a bonus) payment because she is on compulsory maternity leave.
Definition of Sexual Harassment
The definition of sexual harassment has been widened (removing the phrase “on the ground of her sex” and adding the phrase “related to her sex or that of another person”). This means claims can now be made if the unwanted conduct ‘relates’ to the sex of the victim or any other person.
This enables claims to be made by witnesses who need not be the primary recipient of that conduct but who consider that their dignity has been violated or that the conduct creates an offensive and degrading environment for them.
Increased Liability for Employers for Third Party Harassment
An employer aware of employees’ treatment by third parties is required to take ‘reasonably practicable steps’ to protect the employees from further harassment by third parties.
Employers can be held liable if they fail to take appropriate action to prevent harassment specifically where harassment is known to have occurred on at least two previous occasions. The regulations state that liability will be incurred irrespective of whether the third party is the same or a different person on each occasion.
This is expected to have the biggest impact in the catering, hotel and retail trades.