LEGAL & FINANCE: Warning to Firms over Sex Discrimination Law

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Byline: By John Duckers Business Editor

Sex discrimination at work laws get much tougher in a matter of weeks, and firms could end up paying out big time in compensation if they discriminate against workers who have undergone a sex change.

That's the warning from business pressure group the Forum of Private Business, which champions the case for more than 25,000 firms nationwide.

The new law gets tough on firms who refuse to offer a particular job to someone because they have undergone a sex change, or are intending a sex change.

"Although we fully endorse fair treatment for people in theworkplace, private businesses need to be alerted to the fact that they are now a prime target for the compensation culture which prevails today. Industrial tribunals are aiding and abetting them by doubling the amount of compensation awarded," said Rex Garratt, national spokesman for the FPB "Unfortunately industrial tribunals seem to have become even more complex than courts of law, and employers are falling victim to the practice of exploiting political correctness for financial gain."

Under the toughened legislation, a firm will be breaking the law and can be sued at an industrial tribunal if it allows a member of staff to act in a way that may offend or violate the dignity of someone else at work. A firm will also be acting illegally if it treats women less favourably when they are pregnant or on maternity.The new regulations come into effect on October 1 under the Sex Discrimation Act.

Firms paid out more than pounds 3 million in compensation to employees on grounds of sex discrimination last year, according to latest figures from the Equal Opportunities Review.

Meanwhile Government plans to afford same-sex couples the same rights as their married counterparts may have unexpected consequences in the workplace, claims Sarah Pugh, employment lawyer at Birmingham solicitors Needham & James.

Amendments to a raft of legislation relating to employment have been announced as a consequence of the Civil Partnership Act due to come into force on December 5. …