Legal advice: A guide to discrimination in the workplace
Discrimination is an unfortunate but undeniable aspect of today’s working environment. However, the government has legislated widely on the issue, and if you have been unlawfully discriminated against, there are options available to you. Employers should ensure they are up-to-date with the law to avoid employment tribunal claims.
Following are the basic facts employees and employers should know about discrimination:
What is discrimination? Discrimination happens when a person or group of people are treated less favourably than others.
Protected characteristics – The nine characteristics that the law protects from discrimination are:
Religion or belief
Pregnancy and maternity
Marriage or civil partnership
Exceptions – Employers can discriminate against employees if they can objectively justify it; that is, they can show it was a necessary and proportionate way to achieve a legitimate business aim. For example, an employer can objectively justify discrimination against white applicants who apply for the part of a black character in a play.
Types of discrimination – There are seven types of discrimination under the law, however here are the four main types to be aware of:
Direct discrimination – treating a person or group of people less favourably because of a protected characteristic
Indirect discrimination – a rule or policy applies to everyone but disproportionately disadvantages one particular protected characteristic
Harassment – offensive or intimidating behaviour directed towards a person because of a protected characteristic
Victimisation – unfavourable treatment against an individual because they have complained of discrimination or supported a claim of discrimination
What can be done? Initially, employees should make an informal complaint with their employer. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, they can lodge a formal complaint by using their employer’s grievance procedure. Employers can look at the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures if they do not already have a grievance procedure in place.
Unfair dismissal – If an employer dismisses an employee because of a protected characteristic, the employee can claim unfair dismissal in an employment tribunal, as long as they have been in continuous employment with the employer for a minimum of one year. Employees should be aware they only have three months from their dismissal to bring an unfair dismissal claim.
Discrimination claims – These also have a three-month limitation period which starts from the date of the last discriminatory act. Heard in an employment tribunal, discrimination claims can result in an employee being awarded large amounts of compensation as there is no legal limit. Damages for Discrimination can compensate an employee for injury to feelings and the loss of earnings. Malicious or insulting behaviour on behalf of the employer can result in the amount of compensation being considerably increased.