The Commission can enter into a formal agreement with a person who it believes has committed an unlawful act. This will involve putting in place an action plan. In many instances an agreement will be entered into as an alternative to taking other formal enforcement action. Agreements can be entered into even where there has been no formal investigation. Entering into an action plan is not taken as an admission that there has been an unlawful act.
Alternatively, the Commission may suspend an investigation on the basis of a section 23 agreement - and will not investigate or issue an unlawful act notice, provided that the other party undertakes not to commit an unlawful act and takes specified actions.
Once the agreement and action plan is in place the Commission will keep in regular contact and require the organisation to report regularly on progress. During the monitoring phase of an agreement, we frequently build a close working relationship with the organisation in question, generating considerable cooperation and goodwill, and leading in some cases to those organisations becoming champions of best practice in equality and advocates for the work of the Commission.
However, if there is a failure to comply with an undertaking in the agreement or we think that compliance is unlikely, the Commission can take further action through the courts.
We have used these effectively at low resource cost to the Commission to:
- ensure changes are made to policies, practices, premises across a whole sector
- highlight best practice
- effect improvements for thousands of employees, customers and service users.
As well as those we have formalised under s23 (which can be enforced through the Courts) we reach a significant number of less formal agreements annually.
Increasingly, s23 agreements have confidentiality clauses which mean the Commission cannot publicise either their existence or their content.
Some are however in the public domain:
The Commission signed a formal agreement with NHS Tayside to ensure that in future they will meet their duty under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure all deaf patients have their communication needs met when accessing NHS Tayside's services.
The agreement comes after Sally Doering, a deaf woman, spent six days in Perth Royal Infirmary in 2013, without any access to a sign language interpreter despite repeated requests for one to be provided.
Hinckley and Bosworth Council
The Commission welcomed the steps Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council have put in place to create a stronger safety net to protect disabled people from hate crime following the tragic death of Fiona Pilkington and her severely disabled daughter seven years ago.
An inquest into the deaths two years later found community safety failings on behalf of various responsible authorities in whose area the family lived. The local authority accepted their failings and entered into a formal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to overhaul their policies and procedures with a view to eliminating disability related harassment and promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people.
The agreement terms included the appointment of an independent auditor with expertise in hate crime to assess in relation to the case what Hinckley and Bosworth needed to do to improve community safety.
Following a report and an action plan a major initiative to emerge was the creation of a ‘safer town centre’ scheme. This provides places where people in vulnerable situations can turn if they are being victimised or harassed. Hinckley and Bosworth are also working to promote better understanding and awareness of hate crime in the community.
The Council acknowledges that more needs to be done, especially in terms of stepping up their engagement with groups of people with learning disabilities. There are also several areas where follow-up work is continuing in partnerships with Leicestershire Police and Leicestershire County Council as recommended by the Commission’s Disability Hate Inquiry.
Done Brothers (Cash Betting) Ltd trading as Betfred
Done Brothers (Cash Betting) Ltd trading as Betfred is a large UK Employer with over 7,000 staff in disparate nationwide locations.
In April 2014 Betfred signed up to a s.23 Agreement with the Commission following a finding by an Employment Tribunal in one particular case in 2013, that the organisation had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the sexual orientation harassment and subsequent victimisation of an employee.
As a result of the Agreement Betfred have undertaken a full review of management practice in handling grievances and disciplinary proceedings; the retail Senior Management team have participated in Equality and Diversity training and attended a bullying and harassment webinar; specific diversity training has been rolled out throughout its organisation and it has conducted classroom or webinar training for all recruiters on recruitment practices, including the use of their new structured interview and shortlisting process. To further raise awareness of rights and responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010, and to help evaluate their progress, they have also introduced the ‘area team audit’. These audits are completed across all shops and are very extensive, covering retail standards, responsible gambling compliance, and security, in addition to Equality and Diversity.
In their final report Betfred thanked the EHRC for the assistance given in helping them to raise the level of awareness and understanding of this important subject within the company. It maintains that the actions it has taken and measures put in place so far, under EHRC’s guidance, has helped create an environment where the principles of Equality and Diversity are promoted. It strongly believes that the further steps it will take in the future will enable the organisation to achieve and maintain consistency across its entire Retail Estate.
Sportsdirect.com Retail Limited entered into a formal agreement with the Commission. The retailer pledged to improve its services for disabled customers, thoroughly assessing its stores in Britain and to give all staff training to better understand the needs of disabled shoppers.
Last Updated: 17 Nov 2015