Gender equality duty for public authorities from 6th April

United Kingdom

The “gender equality duty” comes into force on 6th April 2007. The EOC has heralded this as the biggest change in sex equality legislation in thirty years.

The Equality Act 2006 places a statutory duty on all public authorities to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment and to promote equality of opportunity between men and women. This is a sea change in approach as until now employers had no positive duty to ensure gender equality but simply had to defend claims if and when they were made.

The definition of “public authority” is wide and includes any employer which has functions of a public nature. This includes private sector employers or voluntary organisations if they are carrying out functions on behalf of a public authority. In certain circumstances a private contractor may also be deemed to be providing a service of a public nature and is therefore bound by the general duty. The public authority which is contracting out the services will then have to ensure that it has due regard to gender equality in the procurement process and ensure that the contractor discharges the duty throughout the contract.

The duty is intended to address any gender equality, whether it is intentional or unintentional. It requires the employer to:

  • prepare and publish a gender equality scheme;
  • actively consider the need to include objectives to address the causes of any gender pay gap;
  • gather and use information on how the employer’s policies affect gender equality in the work force and in the delivery of services;
  • consult stakeholders to determine gender equality objectives:
  • assess the impact of policies and practices on gender equality;
  • implement actions set out in the scheme; and
  • report against and review the scheme every three years.

The Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) (from late 2007) and the EOC will have certain enforcement powers. The general duty is enforceable by judicial review.

The EOC website contains a draft Code of Practice which you can access here.