I have for the last week been re-writing my social enterpriseâ€™s constitution and policies to ensure they explicitly comply with the Equality Acts of 2006 and 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998. I think these are three of the most significant pieces of legislation New Labour passed, but without the efforts of other governments they may never have come into being.
Many people argue how they believe the Human Rights Act is a ‘criminals charter’ or the Equality Acts are ‘political correctness gone mad’, but I think they are essential to ensuring that all people are able to go about their lives and expect to be treated equally to others.
Some of the points I make in this article I have presented to others and spoken on elsewhere in this blog, but I will need to mention them here for context. In the following paragraphs are the conclusions I have come to on how these laws apply to membership based organisations.
1. Every organisation which has members shall not be able to bar someone from being a member on the basis of their age, gender or sex, sexual orientation, marital or other civil union status, religion or other belief, race, gender reassignment status, or pregnancy/maternity status. I will refer to these as protected characteristics (Equality Act 2010 applied). Nor shall they, as a requirement of membership, compel any of their members to associate with any other member within a group within the organisation to which they may have a common protected characteristic (Human Rights Act 1998). They are also not allowed to compel a member to associate with other persons where doing so would compromise their protected characteristics. So for example, some trade unions currently require a member to be a member of the Labour Party in order to receive political aid. If a member had beliefs contrary to the Labour Party then it would be an infringement of that member’s rights to deny them aid because they didn’t believe in the Labour Party’s common beliefs.
This is because in the case of such a member exercising their protected characteristic with regards to religion of belief, the organisation must recognise that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and everyone has the freedom to change they religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or with other members or person, whether in public or private places, to manifest their religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance (Human Rights Act 1998 applied). The only time a member may not be entitled to express their religion or belief or associate with other members in this regard is where it conflicts with interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others (ibid).
2. An organisation is allowed have as it objects to promote the causes of a particular group of people sharing a protected characteristic above, but they are not allowed to exclude someone from membership because they do not meet a specific quality relating to one of that protected characteristic (Equality Act 2010 applied). So for example, an organisation that seeks to promote youth justice is required to allow anyone of any age to join. However, the parent or guardians of the young members have a right to ask that the organisation not allow an older member to associate with the younger members who the parents or guardians have collectively defined a group on the basis of a certain age or group of ages.
3. It is not unlawful for the other members of that organisation not to associate with that member if they identify themselves as a group meeting one of the protected characteristics and the member they donâ€™t want to meet doesn’t have that characteristic (Equality Act 2006 and Human Rights Act 1998 applied).
However it is unlawful for members of such a group decide not to not associate with another member if they meet the protected characteristic that group is based on and the members donâ€™t want to associate with them because of something arising from that or any other protected characteristic (Equality Act 2006 and Equality Act 2010 applied).
4. Any organisation shall not be allowed to inhibit a memberâ€™s rights to associate with other members sharing a protected characteristic, unless it is because they are doing so to protect national security or public safety, disorder or crime, health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, which I shall call restricted acts of assembly.
The organisation shall not prevent those members from assembling using its facilities if they decide to form as a group based on that characteristic even if that group is not related to the characteristic the organisation wishes to promote. The exception to this is that group is not acting to promote the organisationâ€™s objects relating to that characteristic or is encouraging, supporting or enacting a restricted act of assembly and is assembling to support other external interests, as this may compromise the organisationâ€™s integrity (Equality Act 2006 and Human Rights Act 1998 applied).
The only time this doesn’t apply is where those interests are essential to the members rights to associate in the organisation, such as maintaining the privacy of their home or correspondence, their right to enter into a civil union,
5. Where members have agreed to form a group based on a protected characteristic, the organisation, to avoid claims of institutional discrimination, should consult with those members as to their collective needs and provide for those needs on a non-discriminatory basis (Equality Act 2006 applied). That is, the organisationâ€™s privileges and benefits should not favour one group more than another, unless that group is based on disability, where that group can be treated more favourably.
6. Members of a group should not prevent any other members of the organisation whether part of the group or not from expressing themselves to or within because the consensus of the group differs from them where that difference is based on a protected characteristic, unless it is in order to protect the reputation of others, the health or morals of others, preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary (Equality Act 2006, Equality Act 2010 and Human Rights Act 1998 applied), which I will call protected acts of expression.
7. An organisation shall not require members to perform particular duties, whether paid or unpaid, where the condition of membership is not on the basis of employment or related status, unless that work forms part of that members normal civic obligations, to provide emergency aid to protect life, or as part of military service (Human Rights act 1998 applied).
This means workers co-operatives are protected, but other organisations whose membership criteria is not based on employment are not allowed to compel anyone to perform forced or compulsory labour. This is except where organisations supporting offenders who have been required by law to provide for that member to carry out that work, or where that member holds a position of say first aider and they are required to perform those duties.
8. Organisation shall not subject members to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, regardless of whether or not they have a protected characteristic (Human Rights Act 1998 applied). Nor shall they victimise or harass a member who demands their rights to enjoy their protected characteristic though either internal or external procedures, or where provide information to others about how the law protects this characteristic (Equality Act 2010).
9. An organisation shall not do anything that would shorten the life of a member or any other person (Human Rights Act 1998 applied). At all times they should have consideration for how wrongly managing a personâ€™s protected characteristic can impact on their life expectancy, and take measures to prevent such an eventuality (ibid).
This includes a health insurance provider who by not providing someone with a particular treatment to extend their life in effect shortens it. It also includes an organisation which fails to act where they know one of their members is going to commit suicide and that member does. The only time a member of an organisation may limit someoneâ€™s life expectancy is in defence of any person from unlawful violence, in order to give effect to a lawful arrest or to prevent escape of a person lawfully detained, or in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection (Human Rights Act 1998 applied).