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    EU employment laws mean case bonanza

    Employment lawyers are sent to enjoy a major boom in work after the European Commission last month published plans to outlaw discrimination in the workplace on the basis of age, religion and sexual orientation. 

    At present , UK domestic legislation only allows for claims against employers on the grounds of race, sex and disability. The proposed directive would also cover race and sex discrimination. 

    Further directives are also planned. One would deal with with outlawing discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnicity more generally, while a third envisages a “programme of action”. This could see the Commission providing practical support and funding for education on race discrimination issues and for groups which target race discrimination. 

    Once passed, the directives would immediately become binding on EU member states, allowing people to bring claims against governments and other state employers, such as local councils. 

    The directives would add to a host of other European measures already enshrined in UK law, such as those covering maximum working hours and entitlement to parental leave, which were enacted last year and have lead to a huge growth in work for employment practitioners. It is only since the Amsterdam Treaty was passed last summer that European law makers have had the ability to introduce anti-discrimination legislation on any basis other than sex. 

    The plans were first mooted during a visit to Brussels by the Law Society’s employment law committee last year. 

    David Cockburn, the former committee chairman who led the trip, said: “The whole discrimination industry will take off in the next four of five years because of so much legislation in the pipeline.” He said advising employers on how to avoid claims and increased awareness amongst the public of their rights would give rise to more work for solicitors. 

    Mr. Cockburn added that the scope of discrimination would also be opened up by a broader definition of indirect discrimination in the directive which would ” remove any artificial hurdles claimants currently have to cross.”

    Elizabeth Adams, chair of the Employment Lawyers Association’s international committee, said the directives would mean “more legislation for employers to tackle, more claims and more work for lawyers” as well as a “simpler route for claimants”. 

    Ms Adams said the lack of a directive dealing with discrimination at work on the basis of race or ethnic background had been a “glaring omission” is European legislation until now. 

    Dr John McMullen, national head of employment at Pinsent Curtis, said every piece of discrimination legislation was a “very fertile source of work for employment lawyers”. He said it would remain to be seen how much further the directives would go beyond the existing domestic legislation.

    “Law Society’s Gazette”