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 the workplace, 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 £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.
From that date, bosses will be required to ensure that civil partners are treated the same way as spouses in relation to all employee benefits - or risk claims for unlawful discrimination. The new rules extend the rights to a range of statutory entitlements including paternity and adoption leave and pay, and flexible working rights as well as protection from any discrimination relating to marital status.
Employers will also be required to ensure that civil partners are accorded any other company benefit usually accorded to married employees. These could include marriage payments or gifts, invitations to social events for employees and their spouses, and paid-for business travel and accommodation. Ms Pugh says that such situations must be handled appropriately, or bosses may not only risk unwelcome gossip, but also that the response may, in itself, amount to discrimination.
She said: "Employers and HR managers must be sensitive to the fact that some people in same-sex relationships may prefer to keep their sexual orientation private.
" Clarity and tact are required in order to discourage any inappropriate behaviour that may be considered threatening or unwelcome. Or, as is usual in discrimination cases, employers can be held vicariously liable for any discriminatory acts of their employees.
"To minimise the risk, employers must ensure that their equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies cover discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation.
"Implementation of these new procedures should include staff training, so that people are made aware of civil partnerships, and helped to understand the types of conduct that will not be deemed acceptable in the workplace."
The Government expects up to 22,000 people to register as civil partners before 2010. It claims that the cost of the impact of the new legislation on private sector employers will be minimal.
Needham & James also has offices in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shipston-on-Stour and Moreton-in-Marsh