Although it is in the process of repealing crucial sections of the Equality Act, the government last week published a survey showing overwhelming support for the Act among the business community.

It found, among other things, that employers wanted to ensure that their workplace complied with the provisions of the Act because they were worried they would be perceived negatively if they didn’t. This, said the authors, was significant because it showed that “practice can be influenced by both legislation and the continued promotion of a social responsibility agenda”.

The survey also revealed a high level of engagement with equalities and equality legislation generally. The overwhelming majority of establishments interviewed had either a written policy relating to equality or had adopted an approach to discrimination issues that was known by their employees. Although written policies were more common in medium and large organisations, almost half of micro-enterprises (with between two and nine employees) also had one.

The survey authors presented respondents with scenarios that they might face in areas such as recruitment and promotion, which were related to provisions of the Equality Act. One of these involved recruiting a male candidate for a job over an equally qualified female because it was assumed the woman would start a family soon.

Not surprisingly perhaps, there was a high level of support in medium and large organisations for legislation that outlawed this kind of approach. But although it was slightly lower in micro- and small organisations, and in the private sector, even here around three-quarters of organisations wholeheartedly supported it.

These findings contrast sharply with the government’s justification for introducing amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which:

  • Repeal provisions making employers liable for harassment of their employees by third parties
  • Repeal provisions enabling individuals to obtain further information about potential discrimination from an alleged discriminator
  • Repeal the power for tribunals to make wider recommendations to prevent or reduce the effect of discrimination by, for example, ordering an employer to introduce an equal opportunities policy

The telephone survey involved 1,811 establishments with two or more employees across England, Scotland and Wales and covered the private and public sectors as well as the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. It was conducted between November 2011 and January 2012.

To read the survey reports, visit the website for the Department for Culture, media and sport.