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D Michael Rose

Q: Casting Agent legislation

I plan to set up business as a casting agent. Can you outline with which legislation I shall need to comply?

A: I assume your question is directed not to employment law generally but to that part of it which relates to employment agencies acting as an intermediary, either for the hirers or work seeker, in effecting introductions with a view to the parties entering into a contract of service or a contract for services. In that case, the principal statutes to be considered are the Employment Agencies Act 1973, as amended by the Employment Relations Act 1999 and the regulations made thereunder.

There is a whole raft of new regulations which came into force on April 6, 2004 which are both lengthy and complex. Their complexity can be gauged by the fact that the Department of Trade and Industry has issued guidance notes on them which run to some 50 or so pages. Anyone engaged in recruitment agency business is recommended to obtain a copy of these regulations and of the guidance notes, which should be studied carefully in order to avoid any transgression. They are just too lengthy and complex to summarise within the space available to me.

In addition, there are numerous other statutory instruments of which any recruitment agency should be aware. In this connection, I can do no better than repeat verbatim the three opening paragraphs of the DTI's Guidance Notes on the new regulations as follows:

"The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (the Regulations) govern the conduct of the private recruitment industry and establish a framework of minimum standards that clients, both work-seekers and hirers, are entitled to expect.

"In addition to the conduct regulations, employment agencies and employment businesses and their staff should be aware of and comply with other relevant legislation, statutory codes and official guidance relating to, for example, equal opportunities, equal pay, health and safety, immigration, national minimum wage, working time and trade union membership.

"In particular, the government expects employment agencies and employment businesses, and hirers, to follow high standards as regards equality of opportunity. It is unlawful to refuse to hire or to treat a work-seeker less fairly - eg in pay or conditions - because of their race or nationality, sex, sexual orientation, religion, beliefs or disability (noting that reasonable adjustments must be considered for disability). The Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, apply to employment agencies, employment businesses and hirers."

I have not trawled through all the legislation on the point but I believe you will find that where you are engaged by a hirer as a casting agent to find a performer to fill an acting role that requires the performer have particular physical characteristics or skills for the integrity of the work which is to be performed, you are unlikely to be in breach of regulations by faithfully fulfilling the brief given you by the hirer. However, it would be prudent to seek an indemnity from the hirer in this respect, particularly if you are obliged to rely on the hirer's subjective judgement as to the characteristics required for the role concerned.

The whole topic is a minefield through which you need to tiptoe carefully but, once you have studied and understood the detailed regulations, it should be possible to establish a new framework of internal office procedures (perhaps with the benefit of expert advice and with the aid of any trade association of which you are a member) which will avoid or reduce the risk of transgression. Other than that, all I can do is wish you good luck with your new business.

First published May 2004