Sinn Féin has introduced draft legislation seeking to add a new ground of socio-economic status to employment equality legislation.
The principal aim of the proposed law is to protect job applicants and employees from suffering discrimination due to socio-economic disadvantage.
Employment equality legislation currently outlines these nine grounds of discrimination in Ireland:
- Civil status
- Family status
- Sexual orientation
- Membership of the travelling community
The Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021, if enacted, would introduce a new ground of ‘socio-economic disadvantage’. The proposed new ground may be indicated by a person’s inclusion in a socially or geographically identifiable group and notably by their ‘social or regional accent’. The law is at an early stage but appears to enjoy support from members of both the Green Party and Fianna Fáil.
Discrimination risks for employers
Discrimination is a huge risk for employers. It can often occur when an employee isn’t aware of the employer’s obligations under employment equality law. But, the ignorance of an employee will be no defence for an employer.
Employers can be held liable for discriminatory actions carried out by an employee in the course of their employment. When defending a discrimination claim, employers must be able to show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent any such discrimination taking place. Employers must therefore take strong measures to reduce the possibility of any discriminatory action or behaviour occurring.
How to reduce risks
The best way for employers to reduce the risk of discrimination is to educate their workforce. Each employee should understand that they play a part in preventing all forms of discrimination. Employees should understand the types of behaviour that constitute discrimination. Staff should also understand the role they play in promoting equality and diversity.
An appropriate anti-discrimination policy is a must. This should include a procedure allowing staff to seek advice or make a complaint in respect of discrimination. The policy should confirm that any discriminatory behaviour or actions will be viewed as a serious disciplinary matter. Employers need to treat complaints seriously and demonstrate to staff that unfair treatment will be dealt with promptly and fairly.
Failing to comply with employment equality law can lead to serious consequences. It’s important to back up policies with proper communication and regular staff training.
If the Sinn Féin legislation passes later this year, employers will need to update their policies and communicate how the change affects both the organisation and individual employees.
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