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Labour’s plans for disability equality law

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Last updated 13th June, 2024.

These are changes relevant to disability discrimination under the Equality Act (EqA) which Labour propose to make if they win the July 2024 election.

They are mainly taken from “Labour’s Plan to make work pay” (pdf, labour.org.uk), May 2024. For government plans, see Proposed changes.

Employment status

Britain currently has a three-tier system for employment status, with people classified as employees, self-employed or workers. Essentially “workers” (which includes employees but is wider) have rights under the EqA.

Labour intend to move towards a single status of worker, and transition towards a simpler two-part framework for employment status. They say they will consult in detail on a simpler framework that differentiates between workers and the genuinely self-employed. The consultation will include how to guard against a minority of employers using novel contractual forms to avoid legal obligations, while ensuring that workers can benefit from flexible working where they choose to do so.

Labour say they will also consider measures to provide “accessible and authoritative information for people on their employment status and what rights they are owed, tackling instances where some employers can use complexity to avoid legal
obligations”.

Labour also propose to ban unpaid internships except when they are part of an education or training course.

Third-party harassment

Labour says it “will require employers to create and maintain workplaces and working conditions free from harassment, including by third parties.” The rest of the relevant paragraph talks about sexual harassment. However that first sentence may mean Labour intends to introduce specific rules on when an employer may be liable for harassment by third parties, including disability-related harassment. The original EqA provision on this was repealed by the Coalition government from October 2013.

Enforcement of rights

Labour propose to increase the time limit within which employees (and doubtless workers) are able to make an employment claim, from three months to six months.

Labour also say they will establish a single enforcement body to enforce workers’ rights, with powers to undertake targeted and proactive enforcement work and bring civil proceedings upholding employment rights. However, it is unclear whether this body would include the EqA.

Pay gaps and equal pay

Labour say the publication of ethnicity and disability pay gaps will be made mandatory for employers with more than 250 staff, to mirror gender pay gap reporting.

Also the Labour Manifesto (pdf, labourparty.org.uk), 13 June 2024, says “We will introduce the full right to equal pay for disabled people.” This may not be a good idea though: see discussion at Labour’s plans for discrimination law (rangeofreasonableresponses.com), February 2024.

Dual discrimination?

The Labour Manifesto (pdf, labourparty.org.uk) says – at least in context of race discrimination – it will “strengthen protections against dual discrimination”. This may involve bringing into force s.14 EqA: see Multiple discrimination (dual discrimination), and discussion at Labour’s plans for discrimination law (rangeofreasonableresponses.com), February 2024.

Unfair dismissal

Labour say they will give rights to claim “unfair dismissal” from day one of employment, rather than (normally) needing to have been with the employer for two years. They will ensure though that employers can operate probationary periods to assess new hires.

Although this is not a change to the EqA, a person who feels their dismissal was discriminatory will often also claim unfair dismissal.

Socio-economic duty

Not directly on disability, but Labour says it will enact the socio-economic duty on public bodies in s.1 EqA.

This duty is already in the EqA, but the Coalition government which came into power in 2010 chose not to bring it into force. The duty is currently in force in Scotland (from April 2018, known as the Fairer Scotland Duty) and in Wales (from 31 March 2021). Labour propose to apply the duty in England too.

There is already a duty on public bodies in relation to disability and most other protected characteristics: Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). However, as briefly discussed at that link, the PSED has major weaknesses compared with normal discrimination claims brought to an employment tribunal or County Court. The socio-ecomonic duty (though it has some differences from the PSED) is likely to share those legal weaknesses – and “socio-economic status” is not a protected characteristic so (unless further changes are made) there will be no right for an individual to claim it under the normal discrimination provisions.

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