16 April 2019

Employment equality is an essential duty for your business to follow.  

Failing to treat your employees fairly can lead to serious consequences, such as resignations or even costly claims in the Workplace Relations Commission.

You can read this guide for details on current Irish laws. You can also contact us for immediate help on this important topic: 0818 923 923.

You can also use our call back service to arrange further advice

What is discrimination in the workplace?

It’s where an employer treats one or more employees less favourably than others because of who those employees are. Employment equality legislation sets out nine grounds for discrimination in Ireland.

  1. Gender.
  2. Civil status.
  3. Family status. 
  4. Sexual orientation. 
  5. Religious beliefs.
  6. Age.
  7. Disability. 
  8. Race.
  9. Membership of the Traveller community. 

The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 is the primary anti-discrimination act in Ireland. This act prohibits discrimination under the above nine specific grounds. 

Under employment equality legislation, your business must adhere to the specific anti-discrimination provisions set out in the statute. This means that not all forms of discrimination are covered under the employment equality acts.  

Part-time and fixed-term employees also have legal protections from discrimination under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 and the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003, respectively.

Types of discrimination

You should be careful when it comes to workplace equality as there are different types of discrimination and some types of discrimination are harder to identify than others. There are several types that you may commit, sometimes by accident.

Direct discrimination tends to be easier to identify as it will involve a clear case of different treatment.  

Indirect discrimination occurs when a policy that appears to treat all staff equally in fact excludes certain people from accessing employment or enjoying employment rights that others enjoy.

So familiarise yourself with these to ensure you have policies in place that celebrate diversity and encourage fairness between colleagues:

Whichever type of discrimination occurs, the result is the same. It can result in a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission —legal costs, management time costs and a negative reputation for your business.

There is also positive discrimination where a business shows favourable treatment towards a minority group within one of the nine grounds. Positive discrimination generally consists of employers taking steps that promote equality for all their employees. Employers have no legal obligation to implement positive anti-discrimination measures.

Discrimination examples

It’s important to have an understanding of what constitutes an act of discrimination in and around any given workplace.

Discrimination at work in Ireland could take the form of one of the following examples:

  • Changing an employee’s terms and conditions of work when she returns from maternity leave.
  • If an employee faces bullying due to their sexual orientation.
  • Favouritism when issuing promotions amongst staff—such as favouring men over women or vice versa.
  • Making inappropriate jokes that undermine certain individuals.
  • Blocking certain staff from using business facilities.
  • Denying employees access to compensation or benefits.
  • Putting disabled job candidates at a disadvantage.
  • Favouring younger employees over older ones—ageism.

There are many other examples of what could occur, but the above is a sample of discriminatory behaviour a business may commit.

Providing reasonable accommodation

It’s important for your business to ensure you provide “reasonable accommodations” for any employees (or job candidates) less able than your other staff.

For example, any member of your team who has a disability should have suitable adjustments to make their working day easier.

This may include wheelchair ramps or flexible starting or end times to alleviate their daily commute. You may even wish to offer the individual remote working opportunities.

If you fail to make any changes for your business then the employee may construe that as a discriminatory act.

The duty to provide reasonable accommodations is a complex legal area and must be examined on a case-by-case basis.

Your employees’ rights

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure they promote equality at work. If you offend your employees’ rights to fair treatment, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, an independent public body that accounts to the Oireachtas may step in and assist employees who want to make discrimination claims.

And the Workplace Relations Commission will decide on any discriminatory behaviour that’s alleged.

Need our help?

If you want assistance on any issue relating to Irish employment law, get in touch for immediate assistance: 0818 923 923.

Suggested Resources