Discrimination is one of the fastest developing aspects of employment law and has an impact on all areas of the employment relationship from the pre-recruitment stage right through to termination and, in certain circumstances, beyond.

In addition, employers should be aware that, unlike most other awards that can be made at Tribunal, there is no cap on the amount of compensation that may be awarded to an employee in discrimination cases. With some awards made exceeding £1 million, employers cannot afford to ignore this area of law. The purpose of this section is to provide a summary of discrimination law to assist employers in understanding their obligations and avoiding practices that may result in discrimination claims.

It is generally unlawful for employers to discriminate or to instruct or induce others to discriminate because of any of the protected characteristics. The protected characteristics, as set out in the Equality Act 2010, are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

It is the Government’s attention to add ‘caste’ as a specific element of race discrimination.

The Equality Act recognises 4 different forms of discrimination: direct; indirect; victimisation and harassment.

There are relatively rare occasions, where a specified exception or occupational requirement applies, when it may be permissible to distinguish between employees or applicants on what would otherwise be protected characteristics.  The application of an occupational requirement must be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Unless employers can show that they have taken steps to ensure that their staff do not treat each other in a way that could be deemed as discriminatory, they themselves will be held liable should any such act take place. This applies whether any act of discrimination carried out against an employee was done with or without their employer’s knowledge.

You must also put in place measures which outline your attitude towards this kind of behaviour. It is not acceptable in the workplace and your employees should be made aware of this. An important element for employers, in implementing a system that does not discriminate, is a formal equal opportunity policy.  Such a policy should give a clear and unambiguous message to all employees regarding the equality of the treatment they will receive and be expected to give from the recruitment stage and continuing throughout their service.

Ongoing information, support and training must also be given in order that employees are made aware of the correct approach for dealing with fellow employees and workers in a non-discriminatory way, and that all recruitment and promotion etc. is based on merit  Once all these factors are put into effect, if a Tribunal determines that a discriminatory act has been carried out by an employee, then there is a defence for the employer to say that they are not vicariously liable because of the efforts they have undertaken to prevent such matters occurring in the first instance.

For further clarification on discrimination in the workplace, please call us on 0844 892 2772.