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New business regulations to come into effect

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Each year, the government introduces regulatory changes affecting businesses on two common commencement dates. These dates are 6 April and 1 October. There are a number of changes that will be implemented on 1 October 2010.

What follows is a summary, but not an exhaustive list, of some of the other important new regulations with which businesses will need to comply.

Equality Act 2010

The purpose of the Equality Act is to bring together much of the previous anti-discrimination legislation. As such, it replaces the Race Relations Act of 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 as individual pieces of legislation, while retaining their obligations.

Its principle aim is to ensure that there is a consistency in what employers are required to do in order to make sure workplaces are fair and equitable.

The Act covers those groups within the population who are already safeguarded by existing laws that ban discrimination on grounds of age, race, disability, religion, belief, gender, sexual orientation, marriage, civil partnership and pregnancy.

The Act does, however, introduce some new rules of which employers will need to be aware.

In the matter of harassment, the Act includes treatment that is based on perception and association. For example, employees will be able to complain of harassment even if it is not directed against them should they be able to prove that the harassment creates an offensive environment. Additionally, employers could be held liable for harassment of an employee by a third party – customers, suppliers – in the workplace if they don’t take reasonable steps to stop the harassment happening.

The Equality Act adds an extra dimension to disability discrimination. Should a person be treated unfairly as a consequence of something that arises from their disability – they are dismissed because of absences from work that are related to their disability – then the employer could be seen as having discriminated that person.

Employers should no longer send out health questionnaires with employment application packs, although there are some exemptions for questions that relate to making reasonable adjustments for applicants who are disabled.

Employment tribunals will be allowed to ask employers found guilty of discrimination to amend their policies and practices to ensure that discrimination does not occur in the future.

Employers with at least 250 employees may have to publish information that relates to the differences in pay between men and women. A claim for equal pay can be made even when there is no ‘comparator’ – such as a colleague who is doing similar work – so long as the unfair treatment can be demonstrated to be the consequence of a person’s gender (an employer saying they would pay more money if the employee were a man). The Act also prohibits employment clauses that prevent employees from discussing how much they are paid where the aim of the discussion is to find out if they have been discriminated against.

Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations

The new rules remove administrative steps that employment agencies are required to take. These include carrying out identity checks for candidates apart from those seeking to work with vulnerable groups; obtaining agreement to terms when introducing job-seekers to permanent employment except in those instances where a fee is charged for a work-finding service; and agreeing terms with a permanent employer.

Job ads won’t need to include a statement that the organisation is acting as an employment agency but they must make clear whether a position is permanent or temporary.

Building regulations

Construction firms will need to comply with changes to parts F, J and L of the Building Regulations 2000.

Builders will also be required to notify local authorities of CO2 emission rate calculations for new dwellings.

Food and alcohol retailing

Retailers will be able to sell non-pre-packaged bread and alcohol in any size.