Small Firms Face a New Euro Burden

Sunday Business (London, England), October 22, 2000 | Go to article overview

Small Firms Face a New Euro Burden


BRITISH employers could be hit by more Euro-bureaucracy if new European Commission proposals on discrimination in the workplace are incorporated into UK law at the end of next year.

On top of the European human rights charter discussed by leaders of the 15 member nations at the Biarritz summit last week, there are plans for a directive that will establish the principle of equality in the workplace regardless of age, race, gender or sexual orientation.

Business organisations have been given less than four weeks to respond to the proposals, despite government pledges to introduce more through consultation.

The most disturbing aspect of the directive, according to small-business representatives, is that it will reverse the burden of proof so that employers accused of discrimination will be obliged to explain why they are innocent. At the moment, a high proportion of alleged discrimination cases fail, a record the directive is intended to address.

"It is reasonable to believe that most cases fail because they are unjustified," says Richard Wilson, the Institute of Directors' policy executive. "The intention to reverse the burden of proof is one of the most noxious aspects of this directive."

Another potentially worrying element is that the proposals will also introduce the principle of indirect discrimination, where employers can be found guilty of inadvertently breaking the law. According to the consultation document that accompanies the directive, an office that is staffed predominantly by white males, or a recruitment policy that operates by word of mouth, can be regarded as evidence of inequality. …

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