New Anti-Discrimination Laws Mean Work Attitudes Must Shift; Jokes Based on Sexual Prejudice or Religious Grounds Are the New Taboo

Article excerpt

COMPANIES across Wales are being urged to review their employment policies because of new anti-discrimination legislation that comes in to effect this week.

New laws protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual workers from discrimination come into force today.

And from tomorrow new rules preventing discrimination on the grounds of religious belief come in to force.

Many Welsh companies are unsure about just how the new rules might effect them.

One popular misconception is that under the new rules employers are obliged to give workers time off to pray and must provide a prayer room.

In actual fact companies are only obliged to allow workers time off to pray if it does not disrupt business significantly, and there is no legal requirement to provide a prayer room, although it is something employers may wish to consider if it would decrease the amount of 'down time' if people can pray at work.

'There are lots of misconceptions about what these laws mean in practice and employers must ensure that they are adequately prepared,' said Annelise Tracy Phillips, an employment law specialist at Eversheds in Cardiff.

Ms Phillips used the seasonal example of Christmas parties to illustrate some ways in which businesses could fall foul of the new legislation.

'For example, employers need to think about the culture of their organisation,' she said.

'If the invitation to attend the staff Christmas party is extended to employees' partners, employers need to ask themselves if homosexual staff would feel comfortable bringing their partners. If not, this could well be discrimination.

'Derogatory jokes about homosexuals or lesbians at work are likely to be illegal harassment under the new regulations. Many managers - and indeed employees - would recognise that such behaviour should not be condoned at work, but 'let their hair down' at the company party, yet jokes at a party will still offend and could result in the employer being liable for discrimination.

'These regulations do require a certain amount of effort on the part of business. …